Are Canadians Passionate About Science

David Kent recently made a blog post on The Black Hole (one of‘s blogs) about Rick Mercer’s rant about science from last week. Kent disagrees with Mercer’s view that Canadians are passionate about science. I, on the other hand, agree with Mercer that we are a passionate country when it comes to science!

I encourage you to read Kent’s post, he makes some good points, and get in on the discussion. Are Canadians passionate about science?

Here’s what I had to say in response to his blog:

As a graduate student in science communications and having worked for three years on the front lines at a science centre, I would agree with Rick Mercer that Canadians love science and that they do get excited about it! They may not always understand or get excited about the finer details of how things work, as you mentioned, but they sure do get excited about the cures, new technologies and discoveries and those are all part of science and the public understands that!

To put it another way, there are lots of people who love to eat cake, but you would never say someone can’t love cake because they don’t know how to bake one. Don’t get me wrong, it would be great if everyone got as passionate about the finer details of the how in science, but let’s be honest even physicists don’t understand the finer workings of the cell or RNA. So, please, don’t accuse the public of not loving science because they only get excited about the science they know.

You also point out that the United Kingdom has great programs that are being exported and we don’t see similar programs here in Canada. Could it be that we are having trouble getting these things off the ground not because of a lack of passion from the Canadian people or lack of desire on the part or our broadcasters (Quirks and Quarks, Ideas, The Nature of Things are but a few great Canadian programs that show that passion and desire), but, as Rick Mercer pointed out, from a Government that is not funding science, science communication or even public communication in general? Our public broadcaster keeps facing cuts to its funding, so when the CBC goes to propose something like Planet Earth, can they justify earmarking $25 million and five years of time (the cost and time required for Planet Earth) when they are uncertain if they will continue with the same level of funding?

The most telling sign I have that Canadians love science is when I talk to them. Not at work, not as part of my studies as a science communicator, but just as part of day to day idle chitchat. Whenever the question of what I do for a living comes up and I tell them I work in a science centre, their first words are “That’s so cool,” and they always follow that with some very excited comment about some topic about science, be it simple and small like their bug collection, or big and complex like a recent discovery in astronomy or medicine. They are passionate, they are excited. Maybe all we have to do is take the time to listen.


Some Sunny Days

I finally got to put all the image of the Sun that I took through June and July into a short animated sequence that I showed for the first time at the Manitoba Museum’s Planetarium. I thought I would share the images here as well, because I know a number of friends and family didn’t get the chance to make it to the planetarium.

Unfortunately I can only show the flat images I took and not some of the cooler modifications that I could do using the Planetariums digital system. Using some software I managed to wrap these images onto half a sphere that we could put up on the dome, and I even a full map of the sunspots in July. I used the map as a surface texture for the digital systems model of the Sun. All really cool and nerdy!

I hope you enjoy this short little sequence, it was a fun and time consuming project. I can’t wait to get out again and do some solar imaging, but for now my studies are taking priority.

This sequence of images was capture using my 80mm Orion GoScope and a white light solar filter. I used my Canon T3i attached to a 10mm eyepiece.

This sequence of images was capture using my 80mm Orion GoScope and a white light solar filter. I used my Canon T3i attached to a 10mm eyepiece.

Because Today is Tomorrow

This letter addressing Canada’s approach to climate change was brought to my attention today through my courses in Science Communication at Laurentian University. It is definitely worth a read and it would also be worth checking out 97 Hours of Consensus.

A copy of the word document is here; tomorrow is today -SCD open letter 16-09-014.

On September 21st more than a thousand events are planned around the world to demand stronger action on climate change, echoing New York’s People Climate March. As Canadian researchers who study Climate Change and Sustainability, we strongly support this global mobilization.

Canada is running a sustainability deficit. Unlike budgetary deficits, it does not seem to preoccupy our politicians. Canada has repeatedly missed its own climate change emission reduction targets. Last January, Environment Canada acknowledged that Canada won’t meet its least ambitious target to date, proposed in 2009 as part of international climate negotiations coined the Copenhagen Accord.

Meanwhile, President Obama presented a Climate Action Plan indicating that, unlike Canada, the United States will meet their Copenhagen commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The US plan identifies carbon dioxide as a toxic substance akin to mercury. It highlights the health threats that “carbon pollution” poses and explains how the cost of adapting to climate change will soar unless we take rapid action now. Obama’s plan also emphasizes the positive legacies of confronting climate change including future job security, economic competitiveness, and overall well-being.

Tomorrow is today; we can no longer wait to take up the opportunity to change course and begin to act. Countries must phase out fossil fuels to transition towards cleaner energy sources thereby guaranteeing both human and environmental well being. To help Canada face this challenge, we have joined forces as a multi-disciplinary group of environmental and sustainability scholars to bring to public attention evidence-based research useful for developing constructive, forward-looking proposals. Our initiative, the Sustainable Canada Dialogues, brings together 55+ researchers from a wide range of disciplines including: agriculture, ecology, economics, energy, forestry, mining, philosophy, physics, political science, resource management, sociology and transport.

Our hope is that bringing together the best solutions-based research in the country will highlight what is possible and encourage public engagement and ultimately political action. In the upcoming 2015 election, Canadians will have an opportunity to demand that politicians and parties protect Canada’s social well-being, economic competitiveness and extraordinary environmental assets by addressing climate change. Moving quickly and effectively on climate change will require a national conversation from all corners of society, a conversation we hope will benefit from evidence-based research on pathways forward.

Canada’s current inaction on sustainability hinders our ability to play a positive role in the negotiations leading to the Paris-Climate Conference where more than 190 countries will meet in December 2015 with the aim of producing a more ambitious global climate change agreement. World leaders will revisit existing emissions reduction targets, which even if met will lead to a warming 2oC higher than the critical temperature identified by scientists. We believe Canada should act as a leader rather than a laggard in this process.

Opportunities for leadership begin with the preparatory activities for the 2015 Paris-Climate Conference. On September 23rd the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, invites all Heads of State to a Climate Summit designed to generate momentum for acting on climate change. In response to this invitation, NGOs and environmental advocacy groups are mobilizing to participate in the People’s Climate March ( ) next Sunday. In Canada, over 100 events are planned from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island.

The time has come to accelerate the transition towards a low carbon society ensuring that the next generation of Canadians can inherit a productive economy with high social well-being standards, live in sustainable cities and enjoy Canada’s unique wildlife, pristine lakes and ice capped mountains. For that world to be ours tomorrow, we must act today.
On behalf of the Sustainability Canada Dialogues,

Dr. Catherine Potvin, Professor, Department of Biology, McGill University and Canada Research Chair in Climate Change Mitigation and Tropical Forests; 1205 Dr Penfield, Montreal, H3R-2B7, Quebec; 514-398-3730 or 514-731-5125.


Dr. Chantelle Richmond, Western University

Dr. Fikret Berkes, University of Manitoba

Dr. Mark Stoddart, Memorial University

Dr. Sally Aitken, University of British Columbia

Dr. Aerin Jacob, University of Victoria

Dr. Alison Kemper, Ryerson University

Dr. André Potvin, Université Laval

Dr. Andreas Heyland, University of Guelph

Dr. Ann Dale, Royal Roads University

Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, Cape Breton University

Dr. Brent Sinclair, Western University

Dr. Bruno Dyck, University of Manitoba

Dr. Bryson Brown, University of Lethbridge

Dr. Catherine Morency, Polytechnique Montréal

Dr. Christian Messier, Université de Québec en Outaouais

Dr. Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne

Dr. Claude Villeneuve, Université de Québec à Chicoutimi

Dr. Deborah De Lange, Ryerson University

M.Sc. Dominique Paquin, Ouranos

Dr. Elena Bennett, McGill University

Dr. George Hoberg, University of British Columbia

Dr. Howard Ramos, Dalhousie University

Dr. Ian Mauro, University of Winnipeg

Dr. Irene Henriques, York University

Dr. James Byrne, University of Lethbridge

Dr. John Robinson, University of British Columbia

Dr. Ken Oakes, Cape Breton University

Dr. Lauchlan Fraser, Thompson Rivers University

Ms. Liat Margolis, University of Toronto

Dr. Louis Fortier, Université Laval

Dr. Magda Fusaro, Université de Québec à Montréal

Dr. Marc-André Villard, Université de Moncton

Dr. Marc Lucotte, Université de Québec à Montréal

Dr. Martin Mkandawire, Cape Breton University

Dr. Martin Entz, University of Manitoba

Dr. Matthew J. Hoffmann, University of Toronto

Dr. Meg Holden, Simon Fraser University

M.Sc. Nathalie Bleau, Ouranos

Dr. Nik Luka, McGill University

Dr. Normand Mousseau, Université de Montréal

Dr. Roxane Maranger, Université de Montréal

Dr. Sally Otto, University of British Columbia

Mr. Sébastien Jodoin, McGill University

Dr. Stéphane Godbout, Université Laval

Dr. Stephen Sheppard, University of British Columbia

Dr. Steven Bernstein, University of Toronto

Dr. Suzanne Simard, University of British Columbia

Dr. Tarah Wright, Dalhousie University

Pretending to be the Hubble Space Telescope

When some people learn that the beautiful images from the Hubble Space Telescope are really several monochrome images taken with different filters, coloured and then combined (see Hubble’s Behind the Pictures to learn more), they cry foul. When I learned this I wanted to take my camera and turn it into a mini-Hubble and explore the world around me.

The first thing I had to do was get my hands on some colour filters. A quick eBay hunt put me on the path of some lovely square colour filters and a mount for my camera. I even lucked out and found a second hand IR, or near-infrared, filter at a reasonable price.

When my filters arrived the other day I grabbed my camera, my tripod and the first houseplant that came under hand and started taking pictures. I set my camera to monochrome and put in the red filter. It took a little bit of playing around with the settings, but I finally got a half descent black and white image. I’m no whiz at photography, usually leaving my camera on full auto, but I like to think I did okay for my first time shooting in black and white and using a filter.

After I had my first image, I took pictures with my green and bleu filters. Finally came the time to try the IR filter. I had done some reading and so I knew that because the filter blocks all visible light and only lets in the near-infrared light, I needed a longer exposure. I had also read that plants are great reflectors of IR light.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get an image, even with a thirty second exposure. Then the light dawned on me, I was shooting under a compact fluorescent bulb, which means little or no heat and likely little or no light in the IR spectrum. Thankfully I have a bed lamp that still has an incandescent bulb in it. I removed the shade, set up the light and took all my pictures again, red, green blue and IR. They all worked!

My four filtered black and white images.

My four filtered black and white images.

I imported the images into an image editing software (I use Gimp) and then coloured each of the individual images.

I then added colour to the four images.

I then added colour to the four images.

I then had to align the images, as it appears even my best attempts to not move the camera while changing filters were marred by my excitement. Finally I overlay the red, green and blue images and got a lovely colour photo.

When I combined the red, green and blue images I got a lovely colour image of my plant.

When I combined the red, green and blue images I got a lovely colour image of my plant.

For fun, I swapped out the red image for the IR image and got a ghostly almost Marian looking plant. I can’t wait to try out new locations and techniques as I explore the world through Hubble’s eyes.

An eerie and ghostly looking plant results from removing the red image and replacing it with the IR image.

An eerie and ghostly looking plant results from removing the red image and replacing it with the IR image.

Will You Be My Arch-Friend?

My friend Len, who introduced me to both juggling and joggling, has now gone viral with his video from The Manitoba Museum on how to build the catenary arch in the museum’s Science Gallery. Give the video a look and you can decide if you want to be an arch-enemy or an arch-friend.



I also have a video on The Manitoba Museum’s page, but it is no where near as good as Len’s, so check it out at your own peril. Although you will learn how to make a periscope with my video, so you can at least keep an eye on your archenemy.