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2010 NSERC Awards for Science Promotion

Geoff Rayner-Canham

For Geoff Rayner-Canham, teaching students about the wonders of chemistry also means covering plenty of geography. He’s traveled over 25,000 kilometres to visit schools throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, coastal Quebec and even some schools in Nunavut.

These efforts have made Dr. Rayner-Canham the individual winner of the 2010 NSERC Award for Science Promotion.

The dedicated advocate for science education teaches at the Grenfell Campus of Memorial University of Newfoundland. To reach more young people beyond the campus, Dr. Rayner-Canham started chemistry outreach activities in 1978. He developed a presentation called Chemistry is Everywhere! which is given in early spring in the campus theatre and attended by 800 students each year from schools up to 250 kilometres away. In the spring and fall, he takes a portable and interactive version of the presentation to more remote schools.

Over the years, he and his team have used a variety of transportation modes to reach their enthusiastic audiences, once even chartering a former lobster boat. Eventually, assistance from NSERC’s PromoScience Program allowed him to charter a plane to reach more communities, including many that can only be reached by air.

For children living in remote communities, where science is often only taught on-line, seeing an interactive presentation delivered by a high-energy professor makes a deep impression.

To help connect with the children, Dr. Rayner-Canham enlists the help of undergraduate university students who travel with him and help deliver the presentation. One former protégée even followed his example, establishing an outreach program while studying at the University of Windsor that teaches elementary students about the nature of matter.

Dr. Rayner-Canham teaches popular courses at the Grenfell Campus, including a beginning chemistry course which has “turned on” many students to a science career. He also teaches a course and writes frequently on the role of women in science.

Science pour tous

When it comes to learning science, most people don’t want to “pull an all-nighter” but that’s what thousands of people do each year throughout Quebec and they have fun doing it.

The province-wide 24 Hours of Science festival is an annual celebration that sees laboratories, institutes, research hospitals and science clubs welcoming the public to learn more about their work. It begins at noon on a Friday in early May and ends at noon the following day.

It’s the signature event of Science pour tous, a provincial network of some 250 science promotion organizations. Since being created in 2006, 24 Hours of Science has grown larger each year. This success has earned the group a 2010 NSERC Award for Science Promotion.

The fifth edition of the festival featured more than 200 activities. In recognition of the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity, many activities gave audiences a closer look at local flora, fauna and microscopic organisms.   

For example, a night walk taught participants how to spot owls and recognize their calls. The National Reference Centre for Parasitology at the Montreal General Hospital presented an exhibit on parasites. In Rimouski, a local biologist profiled the teeming marine life of the St. Lawrence River. In Québec, an astronomer’s club used a solar observation technique to give participants a better look at the sun.