The Story Collider

The Story Collider is an evening of storytelling about science but more importantly about the people involved. Join our incredible storytellers as they share personal stories of the trials, tribulations and sometimes triumphs of science.
Storytellers are:
David Evans – Curator of Paleontology at the ROM
Renee Hlozek – Dunlap Institute Astrophysicist
Cylita Guy – EEB Graduate Student
Dan Weaver – Atmospheric Physics Grad Student
Vanessa Vakharia – The Math Guru
 
Tickets are $10 and the event is scheduled for September 21st at the Tranzac Club at 7 p.m
 

Innovations in Chemistry are Making a Difference

Article by: Nina Rafeek

Q: Why are chemists great for solving problems?

A: They have all the solutions.

On Thursday June 1st, The Canadian Chemistry Conference, The Department of Chemistry and Science and Engineering Engagement at the U of T, will catalyze a heterogeneous mixture of some of the world’s best chemistry researchers.

This exciting evening of ideas will explore the impact of chemistry and science on YouTube, fake news, medicine, aquaculture, refugee camps and how these ideas are having a positive effect on the planet, the community and the individual.

Sir Martyn Poliakoff will speak about how his YouTube channel – The Periodic Table of Videos – has reached 905k subscribers and attracted over 152 million views in over 200 countries.  Professor Poliakoff is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Nottingham, where he leads the EPSRC/HEFCE Science & Innovation project DICE, Driving Innovation in Chemistry & Engineering, which is promoting research collaboration between chemists and chemical engineers at Nottingham and beyond.

Professor Joe Schwarcz will tackle the recent and contentious subject of “Fake News”.  He will explain the growing threat of pseudoscience and celebrity science which continues to permeate the media.   Professor Joe Schwarcz holds a Ph.D. from McGill University, where he is Director of the “Office for Science and Society” which is dedicated to demystifying science and separating sense from nonsense. He is well known for his informative and entertaining public lectures on topics ranging from the chemistry of love to the science of ageing. An amateur conjurer, Dr. Joe often spices up his presentations with a little magic.

Professor Molly Shoichet is on a mission that started with a question: “Can we go beyond treating the symptoms of disease?” Learn how chemistry and medicine become personal when she explains how she is working to stop and reverse disease progression with regenerative medicine.  Her narratives will encompass the diseases that continue to plague our society today: cancer, blindness and stroke.  Professor Molly Shoichet is a Professor of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry and holds the NSERC Canada Research Chair at the University of Toronto.  She is also the Senior Advisor to the President on Science and Engineering Engagement at the University of Toronto.

Armed with chemistry and his love of salmon, Professor Gilbert Walker is on a mission to make the fish we eat safer to consume while improving their marine environment.  He will speak about two technologies that he has been working on.  The first technology is to decrease the amount of heavy metals produced by the copper salmon nets and the second aims to control sea lice in these fish.  Professor Walker is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, where he is the Canada Research Chair in Biointerfaces.  As a youth, Gilbert worked in the herring weir fishery in the Bay of Fundy, and the changes to that ecosystem have motivated his interest in creating better materials for sustainable aquaculture.

Professor Aaron Wheeler created a lab to decrease the spread of disease in refugee camps.  This, however, is not a typical lab.  His lab-on-a-chip is a shoe-box sized instrument designed and built using tools common to the “maker” movement—3D printers, laser engravers, and Arduinos. Most importantly, the system is “open source,” meaning that any researcher or user may replicate it and put it to use as needed.  At the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, it has proven to have potential in diagnosing disease in pin-prick samples of blood.  Professor Wheeler teaches chemistry at the University of Toronto.  He is the Canada Research Chair of Bioanalytical Chemistry and his honours include the E.W.R. Steacie Fellowship (2015) and induction into the Royal Society of Canada’s New College of Scholars, Artists, and Scientists (2015). His research interests are in the development of new microfluidic tools to solve problems in chemistry, biology, and medicine.

This Molecular World will take place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre as the closing event of the 100th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition.

Event Time: 5-7pm ● Doors Open at 4:30pm

Event Location: 222 Bremner Blvd, North Building, Lower Level, Room 107

The event is free and open to the public, click here to register.

This Molecular World – Learn How Chemistry is Proving to be the Solution Outside of the Lab

This Molecular World on Thursday June 1st, 5pm, Metro Toronto Convention Centre

Article by: Nina Rafeek

When the average person thinks of chemistry, it wouldn’t be unusual to think of lab coats, beakers and Bunsen burners, but on June 1st, 2017, the speakers of This Molecular World will tell us how chemistry is having a global impact.  From healthcare for refugees and crises in aquaculture to reversing blindness and even the social implication of fake news and pseudoscience, these world class chemists are working to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.  The Science and Engineering Engagement team at the U of T had a chance to meet three of the five speakers.  Here is a sneak peek of some of the ideas Professors Gilbert Walker, Molly Shoichet and Aaron Wheeler will speak about.

Professor Gilbert Walker – Eco-Friendly Salmon Farming

Professor Gilbert Walker of the University of Toronto grew up in part in a small fishing village in Nova Scotia. As a young teenager, he began spending his summers working in the commercial fishing industry.  From that time, in the late 1970’s, otherwise known as the “boom time” in commercial fishing, to today, he has witnessed the extensive depletion of fish from their natural habitat.  “All of the fish were gone […] they were dragged out of the ocean”, said Professor Walker. Aquaculture has now evolved into fish farming. Professor Walker will explain how the collapse of wild fish harvests have been partially replaced by fish farming, the animals health risks and the financial waste associated with it and how these problems can be solved with chemistry.  Regarding his talk on June 1st, Professor Walker “is excited about the opportunity to talk about the health of our oceans”, “I want to communicate what we are learning, and describe some ecofriendly alternatives to historical aquaculture practices, that improve the lives of the farmed fish and health of their ocean environment”, Walker said.

Professor Aaron Wheeler – Hacking Healthcare in a Refugee Camp

Professor Aaron Wheeler is a proud immigrant to Canada, and wanted to do something to help immigrants in other parts of the world.  He will explain how overcrowding, malnutrition and lack of medical care in refugee camps leaves the population vulnerable to infectious disease, such as measles and rubella.  Professor Wheeler will explain how he and his group used their expertise with analytical chemistry to bring healthcare to refugee camps, starting with the Kakuma refugee site in northwest Kenya.  Wheeler will show how he and his team have used ‘hacker’ and ‘open source’ technologies to keep the cost of their chemistry-based instruments incredibly low and therefore accessible to some of the most vulnerable populations in the world to infectious disease.

Professor Molly Shoichet – Making Change: Shaping the Future of Medicine


Professor Molly Shoichet is a Professor of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry and holds the NSERC Canada Research Chair at the University of Toronto.  In the context of the past, present and future of healthcare, Professor Shoichet will begin with a simple but loaded question: “What if we didn’t ask questions?”.  Professor Shoichet will explain how she and her team are continuing the legacy of challenging dogma in healthcare.  They have invented chemistry based solutions to stop – and potentially reverse – disease, including blindness and stroke: “By asking questions, we have come up with better therapies”, said Professor Shoichet.   Learn how Professor Shoichet is working to deliver their promise of regenerative and personalized medicine.

Also, Sir Martyn Poliakoff, Professor of Chemistry from the University of Nottingham, UK and Professor Joe Schwarcz from McGill will be speaking at the June 1st event.

Professor Poliakoff – Test Tube to You Tube

Professor Poliakoff will talk about how his YouTube channel – The Periodic Table of Videos –  became wildly popular.  He created the channel with talented video journalist Brady Haran: “This talk tells a story of something which came as a complete surprise to me”, said Poliakoff.  His channel contains more than 600 videos and has garnered more that 1.5 million views in over 200 countries.  Professor Poliakoff will speak about how the concept of his channel has evolved and the success of communicating his love of chemistry all over the world.

Professor Joe Schwarcz – ‘Fake News’ in Science

Professor Schwarcz will talk about the growing threat of ‘pseudo-science’ in the media, which he classifies as a type of ‘Fake News.’  Professor Joe Schwarcz is a Professor at McGill University, where he is also Director of the Office for Science and Society, which is dedicated to demystifying science and separating sense from nonsense.

Chemistry is everywhere.  Discover how innovations in chemistry is colliding with the present and changing the future.  Do not miss this evening of fascinating ideas at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Thursday, June 1st at 5 pm.  Tickets are free but you must register here.

This Molecular World is brought to you by the Canadian Society for Chemistry and the University of Toronto, Science and Engineering Engagement and the Department of Chemistry.

STEM Researchers in Canada Meet at the 5th Annual Science Leadership Program

Article by: Nina Rafeek

Nancy Houfek, one of the workshop facilitators in the Science Leadership Program (SLP) said the 2+ day conference is the highlight of her year: “this is the crème de la crème of the academic world”, she exclaimed.  Houfek presents workshops combining communication, negotiation and leadership techniques for corporations, think tanks, universities, and professional organizations throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

On April 19th 2017, the SLP started with an art-themed reception at Massey College, University of Toronto. Participants got a chance to become acquainted in the Massey Hall Common Room over cocktails and appetizers and pieces of art, which they used as tools to help introduce themselves.  

Most of the participants were not sure what to fully expect from the intense training workshops and especially from the art opening reception. Many of them applied  to the program because of the positive reviews they had received from past participants.   Applicants  are selected based on their excellence and experience in research and their willingness and passion for communicating science.

After about 45 minutes of mixing and mingling, Professor Molly Shoichet started the evening with a welcome message and spoke of her past experiences of the SLP, which she refers to as “the jewel in the crown of the Science and Engineering Engagement”.  

Professor Vivek Goel, Vice President of Research and Innovation at the U of T, officially opened the conference with a keynote address.  He used anecdotes from his career as examples to explain the importance of timing and precision when communicating scientific research and securing funding for future research endeavours. Professor Goel provided the participants with 3 tips that he learned throughout his career: have a vision, remember to ask for help and always trust your team.  

The participants were then invited to introduce themselves through a piece of self-chosen art. From the symbolism of Akido to Salvador Dali’s portrait of Picasso, many of the pieces highlighted their creative and adventurous sides as well as the beauty and complexity of their own work, while others chose pieces that made them reminisce of their home country or favourite vacation destination. One participant notably compared himself to a Swiss Army knife because of his unique skill set, while another participant likened herself to a nerve cell because she is a “team player”.  One participant brought his own work of art that he created in an art class he almost walked out of, but instead, found a new hobby outside of the lab.  

Martin Bloxham and Peter Redstone of the Barefoot Thinking Company also reprised their facilitator role at the annual event. Bloxham said that the participants of the SLP program are “always great to work with”.  Bloxham and his partner Redstone have developed and delivered leadership and strategic thinking training to a range of clientele since 2009.  They forayed into the academic world though the Leopold Leadership Program at Stanford University.  

The art-themed reception maintained a steady flow of handshakes, smiles and laughs. It set the tone for the remainder of a unique workshop that is known to take researchers and scientists out of their comfort zone.

The Science Leadership Program is supported financially by the Connaught Fund and U of T Science and Engineering Engagement (SEE). It is typically held in the spring but the call for applicants occurs as early as October. For information about the next SLP, keep an eye out at http://scienceengagement.utoronto.ca/programs/.

Who is Presenting at the Upcoming Event “Future Environments: Art and Architecture in Action”?

Art and technology are driving architecture toward new forms. Today, computer simulation empowers architectural vision while new environmental technology alters how we live. Discover some of the most exciting ideas and practices already shaping our present and future. Please register to join us on May 3, 2017, for a free, public event, Future Environments: Art and Architecture in Action.

Architecture, Atmosphere, Computation by Brady Peters  

How are computation and digital technology changing the ways architects and engineers design buildings? While computers have been used in architecture for decades, it is only recently that they have been so accessible to building designers. The advent of widespread digital fabrication and robotic manufacturing has enabled designers to utilize a fully digital design process. New tools for design, simulation, and fabrication can enhance a designer’s capabilities and lead to buildings that have better performance. Computation and simulation are impacting design now, and are helping architects design for the future!

Brady Peters: an emerging Canadian designer, researcher, and author, whose work bridges technology and design. Brady uses computer programming, parametric modelling, and simulation to design performance-driven forms. He is skilled in the communication and fabrication of buildings with complex geometry. Brady worked at Foster + Partners, one of the world’s most highly regarded architecture practices, where he was a key member of the Specialist Modelling Group (SMG), an internal research and development consultancy. He also worked at BuroHappold, an international, design-led, engineering practice. Brady is a Director of Smartgeometry, a not-for-profit organization that promotes the use of computation in architecture. www. bradypeters.com

Matter and Metaphor by Mitchell Akiyama

So much of our understanding of technology is filtered through language. We describe the computer as being analogous to the brain; decentralized data storage is figured as a cloud; the main interface for an operating system is the desktop. But these metaphors are never neutral—we could argue that describing data as abiding in the cloud, diverts attention away from the very real physical resources that they require and the environmental consequences they incur. How do technological matter and metaphors collapse into each other and become indistinguishable? At the centre of this talk is “the crystal”, which in various material forms is essential to the functioning of countless devices. The crystal, stands as an important metaphor for how we describe the ways in which these technologies have
very real impacts on our world.

Mitchell Akiyama: a Toronto-based scholar, composer, artist and faculty the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape & Design, University of Toronto. Mitchell’s eclectic body of work includes writings about plants, animals, cities, and sound art; scores for film and dance; and installations that agitate received ideas about history, perception, and sensory experience. Akiyama’s work has appeared in the Leonardo Music Journal, ISEA International, Sonar Music Festival (Barcelona), Raster-Noton Records (Berlin), Gendai Gallery (Toronto), just to name a few. Mitchell holds a PhD in Communications (McGill University), a MFA (Concordia University) and a Postdoctoral Fellowship (York University’s Sensorium Centre for Digital Arts & Technology). http://www.mitchellakiyama.com/

Little Changes Make a Big Difference by Liat Margolis

How can urban regions increase resiliency in the face of a changing climate? The answer is with Mother Nature. Increasingly, municipal and regional policies are expanding their definition of urban infrastructure to include natural ecosystems, referred to as green infrastructure. Ranging from large networks of interconnected green spaces to engineered systems like vegetated roofs and suspended pavement systems, green infrastructure are multi-functional solutions that contribute to climate regulation, flood reduction, biodiversity, improved air quality and quality-of-life. As we make strides in policy and building practices around such constructed living systems, research is key to help develop regionally-specific metrics and design guidelines on how to make green infrastructure even greener.

Liat Margolis: Director of the Green Roof Innovation Testing (GRIT) Laboratory and an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Toronto. GRIT Lab is an interdisciplinary research initiative bringing together the fields of Landscape Architecture, Urban Ecology, & Civil Engineering, to study the environmental performance of green infrastructure. GRIT Lab is an award winning facility supported by the City of Toronto Environment and Energy Division, NSERC, Ontario Centres of Excellence, Mitacs, Connaught Fund, Landscape Architecture Canada Foundation, RCI Foundation, and numerous industry partners. http://grit.daniels.utoronto.ca

Micro-Environments by Mason White

Architecture and urban design tend to take a defensive position against the environment, especially in unique climates and contexts. However, recognizing the potential for a more playful interaction between design and its environment offer new experiences in cities and communities. Recent design projects and research will reveal strategies that embrace complex interactions of architecture and urban design in greater symbiosis with its environment and context. This shift in approach seeks out overlooked opportunities that will produce micro-environments and let citizens participate more directly in their immediate context.

Mason White: a founding Partner of Lateral Office, an author, and an Associate Professor at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, & Design, University of Toronto. White is a recipient of the Arthur Wheelwright Fellowship from Harvard Graduate School of Design, and the Howard Friedman Visiting Professorship in the Practice of Architecture at UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design. His practice represented Canada at the 2014 Venice Biennale in Architecture, where the project “Arctic Adaptations” received special mention. He has held visiting appointments at Harvard University, Cornell University, Ohio State University, and UC Berkeley, and is the author of the recently released book “Many Norths: Spatial Practice in a Polar Territory” (Actar, 2017). http://lateraloffice.com/TEAM

Rare Earth Age of the Canadian Arctic by Charles Stankievech

By examining the Canadian Arctic, one can trace a history of weapons and metallurgy, starting with the nomadic smiths of the Inuit gleaning meteoric iron for weapons & domestic use, through the birth of cybernetics & networked warfare in the Cold War’s Distant Early Warning Line, to the speculative market of Rare Earth Elements in the twenty first century.

Charles Stankievech: a founding faculty member of the Yukon School of Visual Arts in Dawson City, and Director of Visual Studies in the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape & Design, University of Toronto. Charles has shown his work internationally at institutions including the National Gallery of Canada; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Copenhagen), Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), Canadian Centre for Architecture (Montreal); and SITE Santa Fe Biennales (Venice), among others.  Charles has lectured at dOCUMENTA (13) and the 8th Berlin Biennale. He is an editor of Afterall Journal and co-Director of K. Verlag in Berlin. https://www.stankievech.net/

Casting the Future: Museum as Rear View Mirror

If the museum has a role in Future Environments, it is through its capacity to shape public memory–at the threshold of both, past and future. Presenting on recent and current exhibitions at the Art Museum, this talk is concerned with counter-histories of the Canadian imaginary, reflecting on the history of settler-indigenous relations and the continued impacts of extraction industries on the idea and realities of the land. It considers the role of the museum, itself, as a future environment, and concludes with an invitation to join us at the Art Museum for the exhibition “It’s all happening so fast”.

Barbara Fischer: an Executive Director/Chief Curator of the Art Museum and an Associate Professor, in the Daniel’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape & Design, at the University of Toronto. Barbara was Director/Curator of the Blackwood Gallery at the U of T Mississauga and Director/Curator of the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery. She was also a curator in contemporary art at Open Space (Victoria), Walter Phillips Gallery (Banff), the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), and The Power Plant (Toronto). Focusing on contemporary art and its histories, Fischer has produced award winning, international exhibitions representing Canadian artists, most recently Kent Monkman’s project “Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience” at the Art Museum. She was chosen to represent Canada at the 53rd Venice Biennale with the exhibition of Canadian artist Mark Lewis.

The Cabinet Project April 6th-May 15th: Artist Profile

Article by: Nina Rafeek

Further to our previous article that introduced the Cabinet Project and its founding members, a date for the project launch has been set! The multi-site project will be on display at the St. George campus from April 6th to May 15th, 2017.  Using art as a medium, the artists will reveal, emphasize and engage in the various scientific disciplines such as microbiology, geometry, mathematics, geology, physics and acoustics.  Historically, art has been integral to understanding and discovering scientific processes.  Hand-drawn pictures, diagrams and models were used to study everything from the animal cell, to the multi layered strata of ancient rocks, to billion-year old fossils.  The Cabinet Project, however, hopes to take art into a space that is beyond education.   It aims to engage with the ineffable; to create a space where one can consider and ruminate upon our connection with ecology in innovative and creative ways. The Cabinet Project will show us that science can be personal with the use of artistic creativity.

The Science and Engineering Engagement had an opportunity to interview three of the thirteen local and international artists who will be populating the cabinets with their creations.

Nicole CloustonMud (UofT)

Nicole Clouston is a practiced-based researcher and is currently completing her PhD in Visual Art at York University.  Clouston’s work can be described as “Bio-Art”, where as a Bio Artist, she uses biological matter as artistic medium.  With the use of acrylic prisms and light, her art will expose the vast array of microbial life in mud, thereby demonstrating the human connection to it.  “‘Mud (U of T)’ uses mud as a medium to explore and contemplate questions surrounding interconnectedness: “Can encounters with microbial life help us come to greater understandings of our relationship with nonhuman subjects?”, Clouston asks.

While trying to find a way to work with microbes outside of the lab, Nicole discovered the Winogradsky column in a DIY science blog.  “I was really interested in how beautiful the columns were because they challenged my assumptions about both mud and microbes”, said Clouston.  Ultimately, Clouston hopes to challenge our perception of the barriers between humans and ecology and to consider our interconnectedness with the natural world: “by acknowledging our connection to a world teeming with life both around and inside us, we may foster a stronger, more empathetic relationship between ourselves and our ecosystem as a whole”, said Clouston.

Catherine BeaudetteCoaxing Coxeter

Catherine Beaudette is a Canadian artist and Associate Professor from OCAD University.  Beaudette uses scales and repetition to communicate the harmony and patterns in the natural world.  For one project, Beaudette used sea urchin shells: “their symmetry and pattern is multiplied because you see it in each one and you realize it’s not random, it’s actually incredibly designed, you know nature is very designed”, said Beaudette.

Of her creative and artistic process, Beaudette says “I’m studying anything, I’m more of a visual artist and I’m observing things.  I know that there is a lot of natural proportion and harmony in nature so I’m kinda playing with that”.  Although rules and equations are integral to the study of math and geometry, Beaudette enjoys expressing her artistic creativity: “When you use art as your delivering mechanism, you don’t have to follow any of the rules”, said Beaudette.

Beaudette divides her time between Toronto and Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland.  She collects old objects such as artifacts, shells and rocks from natural and obscure places, like the beach, old galleries and even garbage dumps in Bonavista Ba
y.  “When you isolate [the objects] from its usual environment, it’s more interesting”, said Beaudette.  She explores and integrates disciplines from art and science such as anthropology, archeology, art history and natural history, with her collection of objects: “It is about re-presenting the world back to us through this museological perspective”, she explained.  Beaudette says that she is excited to be a part of the Cabinet Project “because it is a great opportunity to bring art and science together and people think that they should be seen so far apart”.

On the topic of blending art and science together, she said, “There’s a lot of relationships between the two, and there’s a lot of artists who think scientifically, and there’s a lot of artists who think creatively, so I like the blend”.

Stefan HerdaA New Geology

With the use of geological specimens, Herda explores notions of the human concept of time and its insignificance in comparison to geological time.   He does this by simulating natural processes within very compressed time frames using domestic and industrial materials.  “I rely on a sense wonder and aesthetic intrigue that consider how we have affected the natural world”, said Herda.

“I have been very interested in the hotly contested idea that we live in a new Geological epoch, the “Anthropocene”, a measure of distinct and often terrifying changes to the earth influenced by human impact and technological advancement”, said Herda

Herda’s interest in the collection and study of rocks started in childhood: “In my younger years, my father, brother and I would visit Bancroft, Ontario every summer for the annual “Gemboree” and scour various quarries and rock dumps for unique findings”, said Herda

His childhood curiosity and love of the collection and study of rocks is the foundation of how Herda develops his new works. “I try to keep my eyes open on walks and hikes for various interesting wood growths, stones and other objects that could catch my eye”, he explained.

Along with the rocks and other objects, Herda uses chemicals from photo-supply shops, Home Depot, Bulk Barn, and “forgotten salts in the bottom drawer of the cupboard” to form the crystalline aspect of his artwork.  “I would hope that these hand-made gestures of natural and manufactured materials reinforce the idea that our understanding of the natural world will be inevitably mutated or modified by human impact for better and for worse”, said Herda.

Also, look out for specimens from Derek York’s laboratory.  He study has led to the advancement in geological and carbon dating methods!

Why Communicate Science?

Communicating Science at The U of T

Article by: Nina Rafeek

“Certain people believe it is a marvelous achievement to extol so crazy a thing, like that Polish astronomer who makes the earth move and the sun stand still. Really, wise governments ought to repress impudence of mind”. –Phillip Melanchthon October 16th, 1541 on Copernicus’ heliocentric theory   

While initially met with dismissal and ridicule, Nicholas Copernicus’ theory in his seminal book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), published in 1543, wouldcatalyze a fundamental shift in our perception of the world.  Decades later, his book would ignite the Scientific Revolution.  This revolution, however, would not have been possible if Copernicus’ contemporaries, such as Galileo Galilei, Giordano Bruno and Johannes Kepler (to name a few) did not communicate his work to the public after Copernicus death in 1543; the year his book was published.

The culture of research, communication and engagement with the public in the scientific community in Copernicus’ time continues to be the foundation of discovery and innovation here at The University of Toronto.  The discovery of insulin by Banting in 1921, stem cells by Till and McCulloch in 1961 and the oldest water in the world by Dr. Oliver Warr and his team just last December, are only a few examples of how communication and innovation at the U of T has led to significant paradigm shifts of how we understand our bodies and the world around us.  The Science and Engineering Engagement (SEE) is especially committed to keeping the public in-the-know of all the incredible things happening on our three campuses and the wider university community.  We asked some science communicators in the U of T community how they communicate science and why they think it is important:

Professor Molly Shoichet, Senior Advisor to the President on the Science and Engineering Engagement (SEE) and one of the founding partners of Research2Reality:

Research2Reality is a national, multi-media website, designed to engage the public directly with the scientists behind the cutting-edge research that is happening in Canada as we speak.  Its content is 100% Canadian and 100% science.  An integration of blogs, short videos, articles and images are used to inform the public on how science and innovation is constantly shaping our world.  “We tell people what research is going on and why it’s important”, says Shoichet.

On why the public should engage with the scientific community, Professor Shoichet had this to say:

“Part of the reason we started R2R is so that people could make informed decisions you know even with a small amount of information they could have a better understanding of the world around them”.  Shoichet continues: “If you have a better understanding of how things work, you can have a more informed opinion and then you yourself can make a difference and you can take that knowledge and learn more about it or be active about it, but then it will be based on something not just that it “sounds wrong” or that it “sounds right”.

In the past few years, students and faculty at the U of T have also designed some fun, creative, interactive and educational ways to communicate science:

The Cabinet Project (coming this April), Science at the Movies (ongoing), Sounds of Science, From Good to Gold are some examples of the events that are/were held around the campus. For updates and information on upcoming science-themed events happening around the campuses, check out our events page.

The Graduate student community also plays a big part in science communication.  Graduate students Jennifer Logie, Teresa Dean and Samantha Yammine recently participated in a program called Science Outside the Lab – North, a one-week immersive course – open to all Canadian graduate students – on science policy in Canada.  They spoke about how research, communication and science policy in the government is interconnected and some of the take-home messages from the program.

Teresa Dean: “In a democracy, the opinion of the public is taken seriously in many political decisions. Communicating science to the public helps to inform individuals so that they can form an opinion based on facts and evidence. I believe that making sure that the correct information is available and that people are informed is vital.

Jennifer Logie: “scientists should not be giving recommendations, but effectively communicate scientific evidence in order to make policy decision making easier.”

Another way the Graduate student community communicates science is through public talks.  The purpose of these talks is to connect with the public on a more intimate level.  Graduate students Kenneth Grisé and Mukul Tewary weighed in on why they chose to participate in communicating with the public.

Kenneth Grisé: “I chose to do a public talk because I believe it is largely up to scientists to engage the public in order to increase the general scientific literacy of the population”, Grisé continues: “The reason scientific literacy is so important is because the more thoroughly people understand the principles of science, the more they understand its aims, applications, impact, and promise. In turn, more people will incorporate and prioritize science in their personal and societal decision-making processes, which I think could fundamentally improve almost every aspect of the lives of all people and human ecology.”

Mukul Tewary: “I work on a project that aims to understand how a human embryo might develop. Briefly, we use bioengineering techniques to control the environment of human pluripotent stem cell colonies in an attempt to recreate the environment that a developing embryo would experience.” Tewary continues: “However, because of the fact that it deals with a topic that has the potential to raise ethical concerns, I felt it was necessary for me to do my part in informing as many people as I can about the benefits, and the depth of information that we are able to extract from our study. This was the main reason I chose to do the public talk”.

We also spoke to U of T alumni, in the science communication field, about their thoughts on the benefits of public awareness and support of the scientific community.

Jesse Hildebrand is a science communicator.  He founded Science Literacy Week, a nation-wide initiative and a celebration of all things science.  Sci-Lit week will celebrate its fourth year and with NSERC as a brand-new sponsor of the event, it promises to be bigger than ever.  Hildebrand shared his thoughts on why science communication is important and why he is passionate about communicating the sciences.

“More than ever, more things are reliant on science.  When you wake up and check your phone, that is made possible by connectivity across the planet. We are alive and as healthy as we are due to medical innovations that have enabled us to be so.  […] the world around us has its basis in science and technology.  Because of that, it is important for people to understand the science that’s going on around them.  Because it’s so pervasive, that’s why it is more important than ever.  All of the science that we’re doing is rooted in a fact-based understanding of the world”.

Ivan Semeniuk is an award-winning science reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He has been communicating science for over 30 years.  He has done work for The Discovery Channel, New Scientist, Nature and most recently for his alma mater.  He teaches 5-week workshop called “Introduction to Science Journalism” to graduate students here at the university.  Semeniuk shared his thoughts on the importance of reporting science news to the public.

“None of us can say for sure if science if going to be up to all the challenges that human civilization will face going forward. But I think it’s pretty clear that without science, we’re not going to get far in meeting those challenges. Therefore, the part of journalism that includes informing the public about science stands to be really important to our collective future.”

If we think and reflect about where we would be as a society if we still believed the world was flat, or that our planet was the centre of the universe or that our bodies were not a result of millions of years of evolution, we would be remiss to overlook the crucial importance of scientific research and communication as a tool in solving the problems that lie ahead of us.  From scientific evolution to revolution, history has shown us the value of public awareness and support for the scientific community.

The University of Toronto promises to continue the legacy of science communication and public engagement into the future.

Screening of Before the Flood – brought to you by The Science and Engineering Engagement and The Sustainability Office at U of T

Article by: Nina Rafeek

Over the last decade, Climate Change has been a hot button issue in the media.  While the scientific community is almost unianimous on its position that the affects of climate change poses a threat to our environment, and the Government of Canada is taking strong action to mitigate the impending effects on our earth, the global temperature still continues to rise each year.  Some remain skeptical on this issue, others support it wholeheartedly and some continue to remain neutral or undecided on the subject.  Regardless of your position on this issue, how much do you know about climate change?

On Tuesday February 7th at 5:30pm, join the Science and Engineering Engagement and the Sustainability Office, St. George Campus in partnership with SciComm Toronto for Science at the Movies, where you will have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the science of climate change and what you can do as a citizen to be a part of the solution.  This event will take place at Innis Town Hall at 2 Sussex Avenue.

This is not just a screening of the documentary Before the Flood, narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. A panel of environmental experts will be in attendance to clarify and contextualize the information in the documentary, as well as to answer any questions you have regarding Climate Change and the environment.

The evenings panelists will be Dan Kraus, Weston Conservation Scientist for The Nature Conservancy of Canada and Julia Langer, CEO of The Atmospheric Fund.  The Q & A period will be moderated by Stephen Scharper, an Associate Professor from the U of T’s School of the Environment: “We thought his enthusiasm, positive nature, and knowledge on various environmental topics would be exactly what Science at the Movies needed in a moderator for this screening”, said Dione Dias of the Sustainability Office.

The purpose of Science at the Movies is to “bring science to the public in a way that is less about a lecture and more about letting the public see that science is very much a part of popular culture; it both shapes it and is shaped by it”, says Elliann Fairbairn of SciComm.  Before the Flood was chosen for this edition as “we hope it will educate people not only on the science of climate change, but on solutions that exist at both the political and personal levels” said Jess Dawe of the St. George campus Sustainability Office.

Climate affects every individual on the planet.  The U of T community would love to hear your questions and input on this subject.  “We’re looking forward to witnessing the energy, discussions and inspiration that will come out of a group of people gathering to learn and reflect on this pressing issue”, said Dias.

Science at the Movies is open to the public and it is free.

To learn more about Climate Change before the event, simply click on the links in the first paragraph or check out:

Tree Canada

National Geographic