Fall 2015 writing recognition award winner

Congratulations goes to William Bouchard, winner of the Communication in Engineering Writing Recognition Award! His paper was the best of those submitted in the 2015 fall semester of CCOM-206.

Here is the abstract of the winning paper, A Study of the Material Best Suited to Replace Silicon as the Principal Semiconductor In Computer Chips:

Transistors made from silicon are more ubiquitous than ever, but the technology itself is not optimal. Some physical properties of silicon may hinder future technological progress. Two alternative semiconductor materials – diamond and gallium nitride (GaN) – are studied and their properties compared in order to find a suitable replacement. Speed is evaluated by using cutoff frequency and electron mobility; resistance to voltage and heat is evaluated by using the breakdown electric field, melting point, and thermal conductivity. It is found that diamond possesses superior characteristics in nearly every category. Of particular import are the cutoff frequency, the breakdown electric field, and the thermal conductivity of each transistor. The cutoff frequency of a silicon transistor is 0.055 GHz. For both the diamond and GaN transistors, it is 2 GHz. The breakdown electric field of silicon is 0.22 V.cm-1; for diamond, it is 4.00 V.cm-1; for GaN, 9.50 V.cm-1. Finally, silicon’s thermal conductivity at 300 K is 1.48 W.cm-1.K-1. Diamond easily bests its competitors with a thermal conductivity of 32.2 W.cm-1.K-1, while GaN’s thermal conductivity is 2.53 W.cm-1.K-1. In light of these results, a diamond semiconductor has the potential to offer much faster and much more reliable transistors to many markets, ranging from professional applications to consumer-grade electronics.

The full paper is available in McGill’s institutional repository, eScholarship.

William Bouchard is the third undergraduate student to win the Writing Recognition Award, an award that comes with a monetary prize of $500 from the Faculty of Engineering. Read more about the award and the first and second recipients, posted in The Turret.

Another award-winning paper

The second winner of the Communication in Engineering (CCOM 206) Writing Recognition Award is, Elie Bou-Gharios. Thanks to the generosity of the Faculty of Engineering, this award now comes with a monetary prize of $500.

For the Winter 2015 term, the Writing Recognition Committee found that Elie Bou-Gharios’ paper, “Methods of Carbon Nanotube Production”, stood out from the rest.

Here is the abstract of the winning paper:

Carbon Nanotubes (CNTs) have shown the potential to change the engineering world with their unprecedented strength, stiffness and semiconductive capabilities. However, the production and alignment of masses of high quality nanotubes has proven challenging at an industrial scale. This paper assesses the effectiveness of the three leading methods of CNT production in terms of quality, yield, cost and scalability. Chemical Vapour Deposition was found to produce higher quality CNTs at greater yields and lower costs than Arc-discharge or Laser Ablation. By engaging catalysts at the gas stage of production and utilising well-developed technology, it also has shown the most potential for large-scale implementation.

Read the full paper in eScholarship, a digital repository which stores and showcases the publications and theses of McGill University faculty and students.

Congratulations, Elie!

If you missed the announcement of the first winner of the award, you can find it here.

Reading and writing research: What makes a good scientific paper?

I am fortunate this semester to be able to participate in a new graduate Chemical Engineering course called “CHEE 687 Research Skills and Ethics,” taught by Professor Nathalie Tufenkji. This course covers a wide range of topics dealing with how to conduct research as a graduate student and professional, such as best practices for keeping a lab notebook, how to recognize and manage conflicts of interest, what elements to include when writing a scientific paper, how to determine who should be a co-author on a paper, etc. I find the classes very engaging and practical, thereby inspiring me to write about some of the topics presented with the belief that it might be of interest to readers doing their own research.

The first topic I would like to discuss is about scientific writing. We may have a sense when we are reading a research article that it is difficult to read or that there is something quite not right with the article, but we may not always be able to articulate the reasons why.

middle of nowhereWhat are the characteristics of a good scientific paper? What should we look for when reading a paper and what elements should we consider including when writing one? We tackled this topic in class by discussing what should be in each section of a research article, which is summarized in the points below:

  • Introduction/Background section: Publishing a journal article is a method of communicating research findings and helps build a researcher’s professional reputation. However, Professor Tufenkji also reminded us that one of the purposes of a research article is to educate readers. Imagine that one of the article’s readers is a beginning graduate student in this area. Therefore, the introduction/background section of the article is where the authors should explain the context of the research by summarizing and citing previous work in the area, describing how this study builds on previous publications or is different from them, stating the motivation of the study (the “why”), and presenting the research question/hypothesis (the “what”). This section usually starts from the general (the summary of previous work) and moves to the specific (the research question/hypothesis).
  • Methods section: Includes a detailed description of the steps the authors took to conduct the experiment/study (the “how”) so that readers can reproduce the study if they wish. The more details the authors can provide to help the reader understand and replicate what was done, the better (e.g., state the pH of a sample, the volume of the sample, how or where it was obtained, etc.).
  • Results section: Simply describes what was found. The results section should be presented in the same order as the methods section to make it easier for readers to follow. For example, if the authors conducted two experiments and described the steps for Experiment 1 first in the methods section, then the reader would also expect the results for Experiment 1 to appear first in the results section.
  • Discussion & conclusion sections: Interpret the results by explaining to the reader what the data means and comparing this data to previous published literature on the topic. This is also where the authors use the data to make appropriate and logical conclusions (without generalizing or over interpreting the results) and describe directions for future research.

The authors should write the paper in a way that makes the greatest impact on its readers, such as writing an article title that describes the major finding of the article and writing the article in a language that is as clear as possible (see a list of wordy phrases to avoid using when writing a manuscript).

lol titleRemember that while the article is written in the order that the authors went about conducting the experiment/study (i.e., Introduction/Background – Methods – Results – Discussion/Conclusion), this does not mean that you need to read the article in this order. I frequently skim a research article in the following order to quickly extract the main points: after reading the abstract, I jump to the discussion and conclusion sections to find out what the research all means, then back track to the introduction/background to get the context for the research, look at the results for more details of what was found, paying attention to any figures or tables that summarize the main findings of the article, and finally examine the details in the methods section. If the article is relevant for my own research or impacts my professional practice, I will read it thoroughly, otherwise I will put it aside.

This is the first in a series of weekly posts about topics relating to research skills and ethics. Stay tuned for the next post in the series, which will be about determining authorship for a scientific paper.

Images from the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats cartoon strip by Adam “Ape Lad” Koford (creative commons license)

3-Day Dissertation Writing Retreat

Nov 10, 11, and 12; 9am-4pm

Need to carve out dedicated time to stay on track with your dissertation?  Struggling with writing blocks?  Think you might benefit from consults with writing tutors, librarians and others to help you reflect on and strengthen your work?  Apply now for a 3-day dissertation writing retreat.  Limited spaces available!

And the winning CCOM 206 paper is…

I could not be more excited to be a member of the CCOM 206: Communication in Engineering Writing Recognition Committee, alongside some of the fantastic course lecturers. One of the assignments in CCOM 206 is to write a research paper and the committee had the difficult task of awarding the best paper to one student in the fall term. There were 337 students enrolled in the course and 12 papers were shortlisted for the award by instructors. We carefully considered the originality and practicality of the research question and proposed solutions in each paper, along with the depth of research and academic sources referenced, argument coherency and consistency, and overall clarity and quality of the writing.

The best paper among all those excellent research papers chosen for consideration is “Recycling Carbon Fibre Reinforced Composites: A Market and Environmental Assessment” by Maxime Lauzé.

McGill Library is hosting the winning paper in eScholarship, a digital repository which stores and showcases the publications and theses of McGill University faculty and students. Maxime will also receive a formal certificate from the McGill Writing Centre and a $50 gift certificate for the McGill Bookstore.

Here is the abstract of the winning paper:

Both environmental and economic factors have driven the development of carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) waste recycling processes. This paper will present the causes of increased use of carbon fibre composites as well as the consequences of such growth. As well, the advantages and disadvantages of three current recycling technologies available are discussed, focusing on fibre quality, commercial flexibility, and environmental impact. Chemical recycling produces best quality fibre with negative environmental impact while mechanical recycling produces bad quality fibre with good environmental impact. As a result, this paper argues that the best recycling method available today is a thermal process called conventional pyrolysis, because it produces good quality recyclate while being very energy efficient, tolerant to contamination and therefore also the best commercial candidate.

On behalf of the Writing Recognition Committee, congratulations to all those who were shortlisted for the award!

New Bloggers to the Turret


We would like to welcome Umma Tamima as a new student blogger to the Turret. Umma is a PhD student in Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics whose research interests include natural hazard and disaster management planning. She also works for the McGill Library as a Graduate Student Facilitator for the MyResearch Graduate Seminar Series . Welcome Umma! We look forward to lots of posts on student life and your research in Civil Engineering at McGill.

Let me also take a moment to introduce myself as another new blogger to the Turret. My name is Tara Mawhinney and I have recently returned from maternity leave to resume my duties as Liaison Librarian for Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering and Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Schulich Library. Glad to be back!

The Up-Goer Five Text Editor: using only the ten hundred most used words

Detail from Up Goer Five http://xkcd.com/1133/ from xkcd.com by Randall MunroeThis past weekend I came across the Up-Goer Five Text Editor, created by Theo Sanderson, that was inspired by the Up Goer Five XKCD comic. The editor checks a block of text and indicates if any of the words you have used are not included in the one thousand – or ten hundred because “thousand” is not one of them – most frequently used words in English (contemporary fiction).

People seem to be embracing the challenge posed by the ten-hundred piece vocabulary. There is now a Ten Hundred Words of Science Tumblr for scientific explanations that satisfy the ten-hundred words rule (though “science” is also not one of the top ten hundred) and the #UpGoerFive hashtag on Twitter, which provide some pretty interesting reading. And Jason B. Jones suggests using the editor can offer new perspective for your writing over at Prof Hacker.

What does your research sound like using only the most common words? Why not give it a try? Let us know if you do!

The Up-Goer Five – a thing you can find on a computer

Image: Detail from Up Goer Five (from xkcd.com) by Randall Munroe

Scientific and technical writing

I recently attended an information session for civil engineering students enrolled in a one credit technical writing course. The students must write a fifteen page technical paper on a civil engineering topic of their choice. They will be graded on content, organization, paper presentation, and quality of writing. The benefits of being able to write well cannot be overstated. Students who are preparing for a career in a technical profession might not appreciate how important writing skills are. Without strong writing skills, it will be difficult to advance in your career. McGill Library has a great selection of writing and style guides, specifically for science and engineering students. Below are some examples:

1. The ACS style guide: effective communication of scientific information 

2. Making sense: a student’s guide to research and writing : engineering and the technical sciences

3. Pocket book of technical writing for engineers and scientists

4. Style and ethics of communication in science and engineering (eBook)

And be sure to visit the McGill Library webpage, Writing tools, where you will find links to resources on topics ranging from grammar to academic integrity.

Image from www.blogs.discovermagazine.com

To cite or not to cite?

I take the BMW (bus, metro, walk) to work each morning and, on the way, I read the newspaper back to front, i.e., I start with the comics’ page.  My favorite comic strip is Zits, which is about the daily adventures of a teenager named Jeremy Duncan.  Last week, there was an amusing episode involving a bibliography.  Read the episode here.

This reminded me of a question that I am frequently asked by students.  When should I cite a source in my paper?

You would cite a source when the idea is not yours, i.e., when you obtained the information from elsewhere.  The source could be a book, journal article, website, etc.  Whether you quote the source or paraphrase it, you need to cite it within the text of your paper and include the reference in your bibliography.  The only cases in which you would not cite a source are when the idea is yours or when you state a common fact, such as “the earth is round” or “Stephen Harper is the prime minister of Canada.”

Image from Microsoft Office Clipart

Writing in the Sciences

Writing is not only a duty for the students in humanities and social science majors, students in sciences at different levels all face the challenge of good writing. As a librarian in a science and engineering library, I often receive questions on this matter. A hands-on course with quality examples and practice may address this need.

Starting tomorrow, Sep 24th 2012, Kristin Sainani, a professor at Stanford University and also a health and science writer, will offer an online open access course on Coursera, Writing in the Sciences.  As the introduction says, “this is a hands-on course that focuses on examples and practice. In the first four weeks, we will review principles of effective writing, examples of good and bad writing, and tips for making the writing process easier. In the second four weeks, we will examine issues specific to scientific writing.”  Read more at Writing in the Sciences.