Teaching Climate Change: Prof. John Gyakum Discusses His New Course, ATOC 183

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Professor John Gyakum from the department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences about his new course “ATOC 183: Climate and Climate Change” being offered this winter. Full disclosure: I am the liaison librarian for his department and will be working with him to provide library support for the course.

Here is what he had to say.


Thanks so much Professor Gyakum for taking the time to share with our blog readers about your new course “Climate and Climate Change”. First off, tell us about the course.

Professor Gyakum:

As you probably know, I’ve been teaching Natural Disasters (ATOC/EPSC 185) with John Stix for 25 years. And the thing is climate change is a natural disaster and I’m really passionate about talking to students and working together to understand what we know about climate change and perhaps more importantly what we don’t know.


25 years, that’s a long time.

Professor Gyakum:

It is. I had no idea until John Stix mentioned it earlier this term, but yeah, it’s been that long.


What is your anticipated student demographic for this course?

Professor Gyakum:

You know, I have not looked in detail at the registration numbers. We have about 145 students. My expectation is that the demographics of our student population will be very similar to what we’ve been having in Natural Disasters. The levels will range probably from U0 to U3. And we’re expecting to have students from all faculties.


Are you expecting students to have a certain base level of knowledge when they’re starting this course or will it be for people new to this area of study?

Professor Gyakum:

There are no prerequisites whatsoever and I expect to be able to reach out to all students without any preparation for this course.


What led you to developing the course?

Professor Gyakum:

We’ve been incorporating climate change into the Natural Disasters course for the past 5-7 years. It only lasts for one week as a module. It’s an exciting field. Furthermore, I’m in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and it’s my view that we should be leaders in articulating the science [of climate change] to our students and doing so in an accessible way.


Was this [initiative] driven from your own experience in Natural Disasters or was it a combination of hearing about needs for a course like this from students in that class or from elsewhere?

Professor Gyakum:

A combination of my experience in Natural Disasters and also as Department Chair. I’m not Department Chair now, but I had been for about 16 years. And Chairs assign teaching. It was pretty clear to me that this was a gap in our departmental outreach that we needed to fill.


Absolutely. A lot of people report feelings of eco anxiety when faced with the immensity of the problem of climate change. How will your course help students deal with the kinds of feelings that this topic can generate?

Professor Gyakum:

Well, you know, we’ve touched on this a little bit in our [Natural Disasters] course. There’s no doubt about it that when we pose this question as a Slido [polling] question to the students, their reactions are predominantly pessimistic and lots of people are really quite depressed about this, with good reason. It’s very frustrating for students when they see that governments are not acting in a way that is responsible. What we tell them and what I’m going to be intending to articulate to our students is that there’s a lot of reason for optimism. Primarily because we, as individuals, can work towards a better future. In other words, we do not have to rely upon a government that may not be so proactive. We can do things for ourselves, that contribute to mitigating against climate change and taking actions.


Things like?

Professor Gyakum:

On a personal level, of course, your own habits, including transportation. Take the bus, take the metro, walk. It’s not always possible for people to do that but, at the same time, people can and should be acting responsibly. Diet has a role as well. Our choices of what we eat have an impact on the climate.


Definitely. How will your course fit in with existing courses? How will it complement things that are already being offered at McGill like “FSCI 198: Climate Crisis and Climate Actions,” offered through the Office of Science Education and “GEOG 514: Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation?”

Professor Gyakum:

First of all, I think our department should be playing a leadership role in this aspect. And I think the contributions that we’re going to be making with this climate course are, in fact, not duplicating what exists already but rather complementing. To do that, what I intend to do is focus on what we do know as scientists in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. In particular, I will be discussing extreme weather systems and we will be having guest speakers from various areas in the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences community to articulate this. Water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas. And that’s not really looked upon very much in current climate change courses. One of the reasons is that water vapour has a tendency to disperse. You have a warm air mass, particularly in the summer. It goes away with a cold front and the water vapour lifetime is rather short. However, there’s been more recent evidence to suggest that extreme weather systems and even submarine volcanic eruptions can, in fact, inject a massive amount of water vapour into the stratosphere, where the lifetimes are much longer. Also, we’re going to be looking at some of the radiative aspects of clouds that have an impact on our climate. So there are some nuances here, very important subtleties that are critical to our understanding of the problem.


So would it be fair to say that this course will be taking more of a science bent than some of the other courses that might be more [policy-oriented]?

Professor Gyakum:

I mean the other courses certainly have science in them. What we’re doing here is to emphasize extreme weather systems not just simply as a symptom but rather as a really significant producer of sometimes cataclysmic feedbacks on the climate system.


I’m a fan of the Walrus Magazine and there was an article that came out in 2022 on climate change education. One of the people interviewed in that article was saying and I’m quoting “climate education should be framed in a way that incites hope and incites change.” That sounds like a very challenging, yet very important, task. How do you plan to incite hope and change in your classroom?

Professor Gyakum:

I think what we can do here is show our students tangible examples of what we as individuals can do and what we can do on a political level, albeit relatively small-scale to begin with, depending upon the students’ own personalities, to affect positive changes in our political system that would facilitate taking strong action against the ill effects of climate change. So I think this can be done really at all ages and at all levels and at all areas of expertise. I think that’s an excellent article that you were referring to. I have to produce a realistic state of affairs – there’s no question about that – but at the same time, there are good examples that I can show of individuals and also governments doing a terrific job in addressing the whole issue of climate change.


You’re making me want to take the course! Are you accepting people auditing the course?

Professor Gyakum:

Totally. It’s not a remotely-given course, so some of this depends upon the size of the classroom, of course.


Related to that, I know you have taught online before. I remember the years before the pandemic when you offered the very popular Natural Disasters course free online as a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). What lessons about the way you taught that course will inform how you teach this new in-person one?

Professor Gyakum:

So when we taught the MOOC, both John Stix and I had this idea that teaching a 45 or 75 minute lecture was just fine, but what we found with the MOOC was that we really needed to break things up and focus on a topic for a limited period of time, 10 to 15 minutes. And then, at the same time, what we found since the MOOC, and since the pandemic, is that we’re really working harder towards engaging students more proactively, even in a 600-person class. We do this with questions, feedback and even discussions. I think that’s going to be a readily available tool that we can use in this climate course, which right now has about 140 students, which is a fraction of what we have in Natural Disasters. So I’m looking forward to that.


So what you’re saying is that you’re taking the practice from your online course of integrating engaging activities and bringing that into the physical classroom?

Professor Gyakum:

Absolutely. We’re going to be using techniques to actively engage the students in every single class much more frequently than has been a typical practice. At the same time, we want to know if anything that we’ve said during the lecture has gotten into people’s brains. We can do that with some of the questions that we ask students. It’s very important. Sometimes we, as instructors, can be very surprised at what a student really learns and does not learn from what we’ve just said. [Using techniques for engaging students] is an excellent tool for gathering fairly quick feedback for both the students and the instructors.


That can help you then to tailor your teaching moving forward.

Professor Gyakum:

Yes. Even in Natural Disasters – we’ve done this for 25 years – but we’re constantly changing the way we teach.


That’s fantastic. I think that makes so much sense because every class is different and, as these things move forward and time passes, the kinds of knowledge that students are bringing to the classroom are different and that impacts what you teach.

Professor Gyakum:

That’s exactly right. And you know, one of your first questions about the demographics, I don’t know the specifics of the demographics, but I’m going to try in the very first class to engage with the students and work with them to address student strengths because the demographics of a particular class change from year to year. I want to know where they’re from, what sort of background they have. I can’t do it all in one day, but at least I can get an idea of what students’ interests are and what they would like to learn.


Excellent. What are some of the main things that you hope students will take from your class this upcoming semester? What main takeaways are you hoping they’re going to come away from your class having learned?

Professor Gyakum:

I think the real emphasis is to instill students with a good idea of what we know about climate change and in particular what we don’t know. A lot of times, politicians, naysayers and so forth spend a lot of time talking about issues that are related to climate change, which are really unknown, totally unknown. There is a lot that we do know about climate change and in particular some of the initial phases of the course are going to go into basics. We will cover what the greenhouse gases are, what they do to our climate and how we as human beings can make changes. Following up on that, we’re going to be talking about some of the implications of the science and what we can do to learn and also to work towards a better environment, a more habitable environment for humans.


Is there anything else that you want to tell me about the course?

Professor Gyakum:

Well, it’s going to be fun. I can’t wait for it to start. I realize there is a holiday coming on, but at the same time, I feel very enthusiastic and very passionate about this course. I hope to convey some of that enthusiasm and passion to the students so that they themselves will be able to move ahead and learn. And get something positive out of this course [that can help them] in the different paths they will take in the future. That might be policy, science, arts, anything that the students can do to convey their knowledge and do so in a constructive way to make our society better. So that’s my goal.


That’s a very big mission.

Professor Gyakum:

It is. In academia, we have to think big, but at the same time, we have to be practical about what we can do. But just conveying the enthusiasm to some fantastic students that we have at McGill is sometimes all it really takes to expand this vision and to make ourselves a part of a much better world. So, to some extent, I’m relying upon the wisdom and the strength and the enthusiasm of our McGill students to go forward.


You’ve got a good bank of people to do work with, that’s for sure. I think McGill students are definitely on board with this topic.

Professor Gyakum:

They certainly are and, like I said, I think I’ve told you before, I feel very privileged to be a part of the McGill community. To have you, in particular, as our librarian to help us and provide resources to students for doing their work. And the student body itself makes a huge contribution to our scholarly community. And I’m just very, very thankful that I can be a part of that.


Me too. Thank you so much. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about the class as it moves forward. It’s been really exciting to hear about the course. Thanks again!

Top 10 Tips for Picking an Engineering Paper Topic

Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/83633410@N07/7658298768

“I’m currently working on my technical paper for the winter semester and I’m having trouble deciding on a topic for the paper. Are you the right person to talk to about this?” I have received this kind of question many times over the past few years. Finding a topic can be tricky! Here are some of my favourite ways that you can use to decide on an engineering topic to research for a course. Whether it’s for WCOM 206, CIVE 432, CIVE 664, MECH 532 or any other engineering course, hopefully some of these tips can help you hone in on a topic that will work well for you!

  1. Look up research areas of some of the professors in your department. Every engineering department has a list of professors and you’ll find links to their research areas from those lists. For example, here is the list of Civil Engineering professors: https://www.mcgill.ca/civil/people and if you click on any of their names, you will often see their research areas and/or a list of their publications.
  2. To get an idea of what other WCOM 206 students have done before, check out papers that have won the best paper contest here. They will give you ideas for how narrow a topic a good paper should have and possibly point you to topics of interest.
  3. I often get inspiration from this magazine on engineering education called Prism. Each issue has a section called “First look” where they talk about cool new engineering technologies.
  4. Engineering grand challenges. This is a list put together by the US National Academy of Engineering. There are lots of excellent ideas for research that is really needed in today’s world: http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/challenges.aspx.
  5. Canadian engineering grand challenges https://engineeringdeans.ca/en/project/cegc/ – these grand challenges are designed to help address the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  6. The Royal Academy of Engineering, the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, has put together a website on how engineering is addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals https://raeng.org.uk/sdgs. There is a wealth of great research topics on those pages.
  7. It’s always good to pick a topic that you have a personal interest in. Have you done an internship already? If so, you could pick something related to that. If you haven’t done an internship yet, that’s okay. You can check out the kinds of internships that are available to McGill students and pick a topic related to one that sounds interesting to you. You’ll find internship opportunities for McGill students in MyFuture here. Similarly, even if you’re not ready to look for a job yet, you can look in MyFuture for jobs of interest. The kind of work that employers are hiring for could give you ideas for research topics you might want to learn more about.
  8. If there is a broad area of research you are interested in, you could skim a book on the topic, especially looking in the chapter headings to see if any of the narrower topics covered in the book interest you. You can find books on a topic by searching words in the library catalogue here and narrowing the results to books only.
  9. Similarly, if there is a broad area of research that interests you, you can search the topic in Compendex here. It’s normal that you will get thousands of results. Next, use the “Refine” limits on the left-hand side of the screen to select “Controlled vocabulary” à “View more”. A pop-up window will open with all the “tags” that have been assigned to the articles in the results list. As a way of narrowing your topic, check out what the tags are and select one or more that interest you.
  10. Check out past blog posts on this blog, the Turret! There are even some past student assignments posted that might give you some ideas.

I hope these suggestions will help you. If you have other ideas for ways of coming up with a research topic, I would love to hear about it! You can contact me at taradotmawhinneyatmcgilldotca .

If, after reading this, you could still use some guidance, please know that the engineering librarians at Schulich Library are always happy to meet with you for a research consultation where we can discuss with you further. You’ll find the engineering librarian for your department listed at: https://www.mcgill.ca/library/contact/askus/liaison.

Happy researching!

Thanks to WCOM 206 professor Terry Newman for her thoughtful feedback on this blog post.

Eliminate the Wait, with Waitz!

Waitz on phone

Not only is the Schulich Library open for business and has it just finished celebrating its grand reopening earlier this week, but now the Waitz system is up and running in the library! Some of you may already be familiar with Waitz from the McLennan-Redpath Library Complex where it’s been in place since 2020 (with a little pause called Covid-19 that put the service on hold while the libraries were closed). What you might not know is that Waitz was founded by university students in 2018 who were tired of the crowds in their campus library at UC San Diego. The Waitz system is now being used in other types of locations like gyms, campus buildings and companies. You’ll find more information here on the company, which is now called Occuspace.

So how does it work? There are sensors on each floor that capture radio signals from Bluetooth and WiFi in the area to estimate how many people there are in the spaces. There is no personally identifiable information stored in the system and the information Waitz gathers is 80-95% accurate. You’ll find lots more details about how Waitz works at McGill Library here.

And how do you use it? You can simply go to the McGill Waitz page for real-time data on how busy it is in Schulich Library or you can download the app here: https://waitz.io/. Pro tip: the 1st floor (otherwise known as the basement) in Schulich Library is almost always a good bet. Now you know all you need to know before you go!

COVID-19 & The Elderly: Why Does Age Play a Critical Factor in Disease Outcome?

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Thanks very much to Melisa Eraslan for submitting her MIMM 214 assignment to post on The Turret. This guest post will explain why older people are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

We are currently facing one of the biggest pandemics seen in history: coronavirus disease (COVID-19), an infectious disease caused by the coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2. Thus far, it has afflicted over 100 million people worldwide and taken the life of 2 million. (1) There is a vast heterogeneity in COVID-19 disease severity; the spectrum of infection ranges from mild to fatal outcomes. Amid various risk factors for severe infection, age is the largest one; older adults (aged above 60 years) are disproportionately afflicted, with the highest number of infections, complications, hospitalizations and deaths. (2) Although research is still underway, scientists have unveiled certain reasons why this age group is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

The heightened COVID-19 risk in the elderly is multifactorial. One contributing factor involves enhanced exposure to the coronavirus because of increased shedding from infected cells into the environment, atypical disease manifestation, and difficulty quarantining. (3) Moreover, increased frailty due to preexisting conditions (comorbidities) and the decline in organs’ physiological capabilities, also increase elders’ susceptibility to the virus. (4) Equally important, as age advances, the immune system weakens, which is called “immunosenescence.” (3)

The human immune system is composed of many cells, molecules, tissues and organs. Under normal circumstances, our immune system orchestrates a complex response, referred to as inflammation, which protects us of harm from small disease-causing infectious agents referred to as germs or pathogens. The immune system is separated into the innate immune system, our body’s first line of defense, and the adaptive immune system, our second-line force of acquired immunity against specific pathogens. Pathogens – namely, viruses – gain a foothold in humans by evading our built-in immune mechanisms to cause disease.

When encountered with a virus, innate immune cells secrete messenger molecules called type 1 interferons, which are warning signals prompting protective antiviral activity. (5) In older patients, SARS-CoV-2 is particularly stealthy in its strategy in bypassing our innate immune defenses, specifically, the triggering of these warning signals, which results in a delay in the innate immune response. (6) Furthermore, with aging comes chronic inflammation, referred to as “inflammaging.” (3) This is a baseline continual production of messenger molecules promoting inflammation (such as IL-6 and TNF-α). Although inflammation normally protects us, when triggered without appropriate stimulation from pathogens, or when overstimulated, it can be detrimental. Inflammaging compounded with the coronavirus can cause the aged innate immune response to flare out of control, exacerbating COVID-19’s impact on the elderly. (7)

On the other hand, the adaptive immune system surges into the battle field soon after the innate response. The adaptive system’s main fighters are T and B cells: immune cells specialized in defending against specific pathogens upon their activation. T and B cells are able to respond to new pathogens by directly and indirectly killing infected cells, and by secreting germ-neutralizing proteins called antibodies.  Prior to their activation, these cells exist as “naïve” cells, not yet programmed to fight, but eagerly waiting to. In a recent study, Moderbacher et al. shows that this quantity of “naïve” T cells in our body dwindles with age, leaving elders depleted of T cells able to fight against new pathogens. (8) Fewer soldier cells dealing with never-before seen attackers, such as the coronavirus, increases disease severity in older adults.

Research continues unabated as scientists scramble to elucidate the full story behind COVID-19’s lethality for the elderly. What we do know is that the weakened and dysfunctional immune system in elders is a key part of the story, since it responds to the virus inadequately. On the bright side, the advent of COVID-19 vaccines is encouraging news for populations at risk, as vaccination is able to boost the weakened aging immune system. Needless to say, it is vital to follow pandemic regulations to protect our vulnerable populations from this disastrous virus.


  1. BBC News. Covid map: Coronavirus cases, deaths, vaccinations by country [Internet]. London ENG: BBC News; 2021 [updated 2021 Feb 6; cited 2021 Feb 7]. Available from:  www.bbc.com/news/world-51235105
  1. Ottawa Public Health. Older Adults & COVID-19 [Internet]. Ottawa CAN: Ottawa Public Health; 2021 [updated 2021 Feb 5; cited 2021 Feb 7]. Available from: www.ottawapublichealth.ca/en/public-health-topics/Older_Adults_and_COVID-19.aspx
  1. Smorenberg AN, Peters ED, Daele PA, Nossent ES, Muller MA. How does SARS-CoV-2 target the elderly patients? A review on potential mechanisms increasing disease severity. Eur. J. Intern. Med. [Internet]. 2020 Nov 30 [cited 2021 Feb 6]; 83(1):1-2. Available from: doi.org/10.1016/j.ejim.2020.11.024
  1. Begley SH. What explains Covid-19’s lethality for the elderly? Scientists look to ‘twilight’ of the immune system [Internet]. STAT News; 2020 Mar 30 [updated 2020 Apr 1; cited 2021 Feb 7]. Available from: www.statnews.com/2020/03/30/what-explains-coronavirus-lethality-for-elderly/
  1. Murphy KE, Weaver, C. Janeway’s Immunobiology. 9th edition. Washington: WW Norton & Co; 2016 Jun 13.
  1. Sette AL, Crotty SH. Adaptive immunity to SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. Cell [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 Feb 6];1(6):10-11. Available from: doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2021.01.007
  1. Nidadavolu LO, Walston JE. Underlying Vulnerabilities to the Cytokine Storm and Adverse COVID-19 Outcomes in the Aging Immune System. J. Gerontol. [Internet]. 2020 Aug 25 [cites 2021 Feb 5];1(209): 2-4. Available from: doi.org/10.1093/gerona/glaa209
  1. Moderbacher CA, Ramirez SY, Dan JE, Grifoni AL, Hastie KA, Weiskopf, Belanger SI. Antigen-Specific Adaptive Immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in Acute COVID-19 and Associations with Age and Disease Severity. ScienceDirect [Internet]. 2020 Nov 12 [cited 2021 Feb 6];183(4):996-1012 Available from: doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2020.09.038

McGill professors and librarians involved in open access initiatives

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Open Access at McGill does not just happen during Open Access Week. It is alive and well the whole year round, and takes many different forms. In the past year, McGill librarians endorsed an Open Access Statement for McGill University Library, committing ourselves to open access scholarship. With the new statement, members of the McGill Library Council strive to make their publications freely available in various ways such as depositing a version of their publications in eScholarship, publishing in open access journals, advocating for open scholarship and encouraging other McGill researchers to make their research openly available. You can read more about the statement here and view McGill librarians’ publications in eScholarship here.

One way Open Access is manifesting itself in the departments I serve as liaison librarian is through the development of overlay journals in Mechanical Engineering. Overlay journals are a type of open access publication whereby experts in certain disciplines curate articles to present to their readers from open access repositories such as ArXiv, engrXiv, HAL, eScholarship and other sources, with the aim of promoting new models in scholarly publishing. Overlay journals provide the “best of” from among the many open access articles available today. Two McGill professors have been actively involved in starting up the “Journal of Theoretical, Computational and Applied Mechanics”, a new overlay journal in Mechanical Engineering. Professor Mathias Legrand serves on its Technical Board and Professor Jorge Angeles serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. The journal aims to “select publications of the highest scientific caliber in the form of either original papers or reviews” in the fields of mechanical engineering, applied mathematics, materials science, geophysics and more (https://jtcam.episciences.org/). Stay tuned for the first issue!

For more information about Open Access and what it means for your research, contact your liaison librarian!

McGill Library supports engrXiv!

I am pleased to announce that McGill Library recently became a member of engrXiv, an open access e-print repository in engineering where faculty can submit their publications. This repository is not-for-profit and relies on university libraries and other organizations to cover their expenses. Please click here for a list of other institutions supporting this important work. You can search engrXiv for freely accessible research in many fields of engineering. Wondering how to pronounce the name? Me too! Founders say to call it “engineering archive”. You’ll find out more details about its name here.

Like McGill’s own institutional repository, eScholarship, engrXiv is a recognized repository that provides faculty with a venue for publishing their author-accepted manuscripts so that they can comply with the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications requiring all grant-funded journal articles be made open access within 12 months of publication. If you are a faculty member or other researcher wishing to deposit to engrXiv, please go to: https://engrxiv.org/submit and follow the instructions. For more information about how engrXiv works, please click here.

engrXiv isn’t the only open access initiative that McGill Library supports. To learn about the others, please click here. Want to learn more about open access in general? Read all about it on the library’s pages or ask your librarian!

The Ethics of Colonization on Mars

Image from Wikipedia

Welcome back to Aleiah who posted for the Turret while she was a student in Communication in Engineering (CCOM 206). Here is a post she wrote with her fellow student, Kevin Xie, for a class assignment for Engineering Professional Practice (FACC 400).

The Ethics of Colonization on Mars

Humanity is on the verge of technological advancement which will make possible the colonization of Mars, the red planet. According to SpaceX the first human is planned to land on Mars by the year 20241. However, this calls into question: Should humanity colonize Mars?

The colonization of Mars is a complex issue with many underlying aspects. There are also many technical challenges such as, overcoming cosmic radiation, bone demineralization and the psychological stress of a journey to Mars.  For Mars to be habitable by humans, it must first be terraformed. Terraforming is a process in which the environment of a planet is modified to emulate the earth. It involves the modification of the atmosphere, topography, temperature and ecology. Doing this will help scientists on Earth understand Earth’s own environment as well as facilitate human life on mars. Any technological advancements made will help all of humanity. An example of this is climate change on Earth. Understanding how to control the temperature of a planet can help solve climate change on Earth.

Whether or not the Mars colonization project is a success, humanity can benefit from this project as the technology required to successfully colonize Mars can be useful on Earth as well. For example, here are three industries that would be greatly advanced thanks to the Mars project, to the benefit of humans on Earth:

  1. Agriculture:

The World Bank reported in 20152 that approximately 11% of Earth is arable, meaning capable of being ploughed and used for crops. As human population grows and food security becomes a greater issue, the agricultural industry would benefit from technology that allowed them to farm on unforgiving land. The Mars project faces this exact design problem as humans would need to start growing their own food on Mars in order to successfully colonize there.

  1. Medical:

Astronauts face a number of health issues in space, such as loss of bone density and muscular atrophy due to the lower gravity. In particular, Mars only has 38% of Earth’s gravity. Under prolonged circumstances, astronauts could find themselves facing skeletal damage. Although the circumstances are unique to the astronauts, these health concerns are not. Osteoporosis is a common public health problem whose patients tend to neglect their medication as they don’t believe in the effectiveness of the treatment. Solving this problem for astronauts will also help these patients.

  1. Nuclear Power:

Mars offers very little radiation protection and shielding compared to Earth, due to having no magnetosphere and a very thin atmosphere. Whereas humans on Earth are naturally protected from solar radiation and galactic cosmic rays, as Earth explores more sources of energy including nuclear power, it will soon become increasingly important to create technology that would protect humans from radiation.

Additionally, it is important to think of the colonization of Mars not as a transfer, but an expansion. Creating a colony on Mars does not mean that the earth will be abandoned. It can be compared to the first European settlers arriving in America. America was simply an expansion. In order for humanity to continue to progress, Mars must be colonized.

The colonization of Mars is also a stepping stone for humans to move beyond the solar system. The knowledge gained from colonizing mars will not only pave the way to going to other planets, but also building permanently habitable space stations in which humans can live.


Arable land (% of land area). (n.d.). Retrieved November 09, 2018, from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.LND.ARBL.ZS?end=2015&start=2015&view=bar

This is how SpaceX will get humans to Mars by 2024 | CBC News. (2017, September 29). Retrieved November 09, 2018, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/spacex-mars-rocket-elon-musk-1.4312878

A little piece of Schulich Library goes to China!

One of the main reasons I love working at McGill is the opportunity to interact with amazing students and staff who are doing exciting projects that could potentially change the world. The 99 McGill and Concordia student, staff, and alumni members of Team Montreal are currently part of one such endeavor. They are building a net zero energy home, a prototype that could revolutionize how we live in the future since the technological design features of this house enable it to create as much energy as the house dwellers consume. They have all kinds of sponsors including their lead presenting sponsor, Hydro Quebec, who sees this project as an opportunity for them to become a main player in technologies related to intelligent and sustainable home design. Hydro Quebec’s vice-president of client services, Eric Filion, sees this project as a way for them to learn more about innovative technologies and actually test them out.

Not only is Team Montreal building a house that could change for the better the way we live, they are also out to win the Solar Decathlon China 2018 competition currently taking place in China, where, as the only team from Canada, they are competing against 21 other teams from around the world. Once the competition is over, most houses will remain on public display either in China or elsewhere. Team members say there are plans to build other houses in Montreal using the same design.

What is particularly cool about the Team Montreal design is the way it takes the traditional row housing style of architecture so predominant in Montreal and creates something new, incorporating Asian-style features such as an open-air courtyard, and innovative technologies that enhance the house’s sustainability. For a sneak peek of how the house will look upon completion, check out the 3-minute video here (part-way down the page on the right-hand side).

I had heard about the project a few months back and was thrilled to be contacted in April by one of the team members who was asking for help. They wanted to have books on architecture and engineering to add to the house’s built-in bookshelves. The books could show signs of use since they wanted to give the house a lived-in feel. I was so happy to be able to support this fantastic project. Right away, I contacted my engineering librarian counterpart at Concordia, Joshua Chalifour to see if he could help out. Joshua had a number of engineering books that were going to be discarding due to them being so well-used and they had purchased replacement copies already. He willingly lugged a bunch of them over by foot from Concordia for me to add to the pile. So along with the books Joshua brought over, we had a combination of items from Schulich Library that were donations we already had in our collection, items that we were going to discard because we had duplicate copies or newer editions, and some old engineering trade magazines from my personal collection.

It was very exciting to correspond and meet with team members Kim Chayer and Thierry Syriani. Their enthusiasm for this project is certainly contagious! When they came to see the books, they were really happy to take everything! The books went out in two shipments, with the pre-fabricated house materials in big crates, the 1st shipment being in April and the 2nd one in June.

How can you help? You can support the team by liking and following them on Facebook or by following their diary where, as I write, they are in the home stretch of needing to assemble the house within the next few days. They are battling hot weather, challenges associated with pre-fabrication construction, heavy rain, and typhoon threats in order to complete the house on time. You can also support them by making a donation.

Go Team Montreal! Who knows, some of the engineering books you may have used in courses taught at McGill and Concordia might be lining the shelves of this year’s prize-winning house of the Solar Decathlon China competition!

What the heck is happening with Schulich Library?!

As those of you who use the library frequently may have noticed, there always seems to be something going on related to facilities in the building these days. In fact, in the next little while, the library will be completely closed from the evening of Fri. Mar. 2 and reopening at 9am on Tues. Mar. 6 to accommodate a complete ventilation shutdown and necessary work for the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) project. Here is the official announcement.

After-hours access will also be disabled. During this time, you are encouraged to use other branches. Please find branch opening hours here.

The HVAC project, which is set to be complete by June 2018, will see Schulich Library obtain updated heating and cooling facilities. You will find more details on the project here. Please bear with us. Once the HVAC project is finished, the library should be more comfortable for everyone.

In the mean time, there is also now a dedicated email you can use to let McGill Facilities staff know that the building (or any other library building) is too hot or too cold.

Unfortunately, the fun won’t stop with the HVAC project! In the future, the library will be going through exterior masonry work, similar to what is currently taking place and/or what will be taking place very soon in the Macdonald-Harrington Building and the Macdonald Engineering Building. You will find more details about those projects here. When it’s Schulich Library’s turn, there will be interior and exterior work being done simultaneously. Further announcements are forthcoming, once there is a projected timeline for the work in Schulich Library.

Our apologies for all the disruption. A comfortable space is the ultimate goal and unfortunately, sometimes you need to break some eggs to make a cake!

Of course, if you have any concerns or questions, please feel free to come to the service desk on the main floor or send an email to: schulich.library@mcgill.ca

Welcome Aleiah!

aleiah closeup picture

I would like to introduce a new student blogger to the Turret. Her name is Aleiah and she is a student in “CCOM 206 – Communication in Engineering” at McGill this semester. The course gives students an opportunity to develop their writing skills through various types of writing including a research paper, a cover letter, and a business proposal. She is a 3rd year student in Mechanical Engineering who is interested in aerospace and wants to works in aircraft design. She is originally from Winnipeg. Welcome to the Turret Aleiah! We look forward to having your perspective as a McGill engineering student added to the blog!