Science Literacy Week, 2022

We have been participating in this Canada-wide celebration of science since 2015, but this year really is special. We could not be more enthusiastic about welcoming you to our McGill events, some virtual and others in-person. The theme of this year’s Science Literacy Week, taking place September 19-25, is Mathematics. It is such a wonderfully broad theme that, together with our campus partners, we were able to organize an array of learning opportunities for you.

I thought that I would break it down day by day with a few insights, but first there are two exhibits that have already launched and that you can check out right away. There is a Math / Music exhibit at the Marvin Duchow Music Library with materials from their collection that demonstrate the rich connections between the two disciplines. There is also a Mathematics Redpath Book Display, both physical (in the Humanities and Social Sciences Library) and virtual for some interesting reading material.


Monday

  • Stats-wise (12-1pm; in person): I was a student of Professor Rhonda Amsel during my undergrad at McGill (last century!) and she truly is a wonderful educator. I cannot wait to hear her talk about the ‘why’ of statistics. This presentation is for everyone.
  • Introduction to Working with Data in Excel (2-4pm; virtual): This is hands-on experience for the absolute beginner.

Tuesday

  • The Art of Explaining Science to Non-Specialists (12-1pm; virtual): Who better to introduce this important skillset than Science Communication Specialist at the Office of Science Education, Diane Dechief? I promise that this will be one hour well spent.
  • Plant Walk and Harvest (12-1pm; in person): The folks at Redpath Museum have been huge supporters of Science Literacy Week since the beginning. There are limited spots available for this McGill garden tour.
  • Intro to LaTeX (2-3pm; virtual): Get some LaTeX practice using the free online editor, Overleaf.

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday


That’s it so far. I’m sorry for all of the exclamation marks (it’s exciting). Register today for a workshop, or join us for one of the drop-ins. I hope to see you around 🙂

April Book Display: English & Academic Writing

Redpath Book Display

April may be a busy time while you are completing your term papers and exams. It may also be a great time to reflect and determine what you want to accomplish in the upcoming summer vacation. How about uplifting your academic writing skills? No matter what level of study you are doing or what role you are playing in academia, good writing undoubtedly makes a positive contribution to your work. Not only does it help to make your ideas more precise and persuasive, but also it aids in your reasoning, analyzing, and critical thinking.

With that in mind, the McGill Library created a virtual book display entitled “English & Academic Writing”, consisting of recent print books, ebooks, e-videos and website resources on academic writing and English communication. They are useful for both instructors and students of various disciplines, including those whose mother tongue is not English. Selected print titles are now available for borrowing on the Redpath Book Display on the main floor of the Redpath Library (aka. the northern part of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library) during the entire month of April.

Here are some of the titles that you may want to start with:

100 tips to avoid mistakes in academic writing and presenting

100 tips to avoid mistakes in academic writing and presenting, Adrian Wallwork & Anna Southern, 2020, Springer

This ebook contains one hundred typical mistakes relating to papers, proposals, oral presentations, and correspondence with editors, reviewers, and editing agencies. While it is primarily intended for non-native English speaking researchers, it is also useful for those who are revising their works in order to have them published.

How to fix your academic writing trouble: a practical guide, Inger Mewburn, Katherine Firth, and Shaun Lehmann, 2019, Open University Press

This print book explains common feedback students receive from their instructors of a writing course, such as “Your writing doesn’t sound very academic” and “Your writing doesn’t flow”. It also provides advice on how to fix those issues.

Writing for engineering and science students: staking your claim, Gerald Rau, 2020, Routledge

This ebook is a practical guide for both international students and native speakers of English undertaking either academic or technical writing. It uses writing excerpts from engineering and science journals to explore characteristics of a research paper, including organization, length and naming of sections, and location and purpose of citations and graphics. It covers different types of writing, including lab reports, research proposals, dissertations, poster presentations, industry reports, emails, and job applications.

Academic writing for university students, Stephen Bailey, 2022, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group

This print book is designed to help with writing essays, reports and other papers for coursework and exams. It consists of four parts: The Writing Process: From finding suitable sources, through to editing and proofreading; Writing Types: Practice with common assignments such as reports and cause-effect essays; Writing Tools: Skills such as making comparisons, definitions, punctuation and style; and Lexis: Academic vocabulary, using synonyms, nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs.

“They say / I say”: the moves that matter in academic writing: with readings, Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, Russel K Durst, and Laura J Panning Davies, 2021, W.W. Norton & Company

This text has been used in many writing courses to teach students how to structure a scholarly conversation while building their own arguments. It provides practical rhetoric templates that are useful for citing different views in the literature, for example, “In discussions of………………, a controversial issue is whether……………… . While some argue that………………, others contend that………………. .” It is definitely a helpful guide for writing your literature review.

Becoming an academic writer: 50 exercises for paced, productive, and powerful writing, Patricia Goodson, 2017, SAGE

This print title is a workbook of 50 exercises, covering both linguistic basics (e.g. grammar and vocabulary) and writing specifics in different sections of an academic work, such as abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion and conclusion.

For those whose mother tongue is not English, also feel free to watch some e-videos listed in the “Study English” and “English Composition” series.

Since it takes effort and time to improve your writing, why don’t you start the journey with a book from our book display today?

These student papers are the best

Excellence in

Written Communication

I am delighted to present to you three of our Communication in Engineering, Excellence in Written Communication Award winners! These are the best student papers from past terms of CCOM 206. They have been added to eScholarship@McGill and they are well worth a read.

Nathan Robbins – Performance of Nose Cone Geometries on Sounding Rockets

Read the full paper on eScholarship

This investigation compares the performances of several nose cone geometries and their suitability for flight on a high-altitude sounding rocket. Many geometries have been proposed to mitigate the extreme aerodynamic forces and phenomena encountered during such high energy ascents. The geometries in question include the conic section, Haack Series nose cone, and the aerospike nose cone; all of which are evaluated according to their coefficients of drag, heating characteristics, and several outstanding factors such as wall shear stress, pressure distributions, and useful internal volume. The investigation concludes that the aerospike nose cone is well suited for high-altitude sounding rockets because of its capacity to reduce drag, its exceptional ability to reduce heating, and its larger useful internal volume. Through this unique combination of performance and volume, the aerospike nose cone is a likely candidate for the forebody of high-altitude sounding rockets for future missions.

Katia Rosenflanz – Biodiesel Production: Advancing Lipid Extraction to Fuel our Future

Read the full paper on eScholarship

The use of diesel and fossil fuels to power the globe’s increasing energy demands have caused large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, negatively impacting the environment. This has led researchers to investigate alternative energy sources. Biodiesel, a renewable, biodegradable, and environmentally-friendly resource, shows promise; microalgae, which consume large amounts of carbon dioxide, one of the most harmful greenhouse gases, has been introduced as a potential supply for the necessary oils. Because of algal cells’ strength and chemical properties, however, the physical extraction of lipids is difficult. This paper compares three methods to improve lipid extraction: microwave radiation, osmotic shock, and bead beating. They are assessed based on dry weight lipid output, efficiency, and scalability. Based on research, bead beating has high energy consumption and relatively low lipid production; thus, it is unadvisable for mass production. Osmotic shock has high output and no energy consumption, but is fairly inefficient due to a large time requirement. Microwave radiation performs fairly well in terms of lipid output, efficiency, and scalability, making it the most viable option, but microalgal biodiesel is only now entering the picture as an alternative energy source. Further research and resources must be invested in order to introduce these techniques into the global energy market.

Allan Reuben – Nanomagnetic Logic Circuits as an Alternative to Silicon CMOS-based Circuits for use in Extreme Environments

Read the full paper in eScholarship

As hardware and software technology improves, sending robots to do research in extreme environments is increasingly frequent. This shift creates a need for computer chips optimally designed for those environments. Computers that operate in extreme environments must account for limitations and requirements not present in consumer or corporate uses such as: extreme power management, high radiation exposure, and high computation reliability. Silicon-based computers have become the accepted standard in computing for every environment due to their high speed and ease of manufacturing. Nanomagnetic logic circuits are a promising new technology that may help engineers optimize computers for use in extreme environments. These two systems are compared based on their durability from radiation, power utilization, and clock speed. For mission-critical computer operation in extreme environments, nanomagnetic logic circuits offer many advantages over traditional silicon-based computers.

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.

Citations

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

Doctors’ Cell Phones Are Contaminating Hospitals by Annie Charron

Today we have another guest undergraduate student post, originally submitted as a class assignment for Communicating Science (CCOM 314).

With support from Diane Dechief, Faculty Lecturer at the McGill Writing Centre, we will be sharing more noteworthy student writing right here on The Turret.

Annie chose to write a Trilobite article that provides knowledge on the health consequences of the use of cell phones by doctors.


Doctors’ Cell Phones Are Contaminating Hospitals

Your mobile phone carries the dirty fragments of germs. Thousands of microscopic bacteria bugs are crawling on it. The residue of greasy food is smudged on the screen. The remnants touched on public door handles have engulfed the surface of the phone.

Mobile phones are your hands’ partner in crime: you can wash your hands to eradicate germs and prevent the spread of germs, but you can’t wash the cell phone – at least not with soap. Without proper cleaning, germs are like glitter, they will never go away. Healthcare workers who bring mobile phones to work interfere with infection controls in hospitals.

Healthcare workers cell phones are a magnet for bacteria and harmful chemicals, which could decrease patients’ recovery. Hospitals should be the most sterile places in the world. But our tiny gadgets may ruin this. At any rate, there should be major shame towards the television series Grey’s Anatomy, where the characters are constantly using their mobile devices during patient care without washing their hands.

In a study published by Excellent Publishers in 2017, Ganapathy Shakthivel and his colleagues, working in the department of microbiology at Tirunelveli Medical College in India, examined 50 randomly selected healthcare workers at a specialized care hospital. They investigated how the bacterial contamination of cell phones poses a threat to infections. They then assessed whether contamination could be cleaned simply with 70% rubbing alcohol.

The study lasted for two months and included mobile phones belonging to doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians, nursing assistants and hospital workers. Each worker first filled out a questionnaire that asked questions about the prevalence of phone usage between patient consultations and if workers washed their hands in between use or followed a strict sterile routine. Following this, each mobile phone was swabbed twice. The first swab took place before the decontamination procedure, the second swab occurred after the phone was thoroughly cleaned with the rubbing alcohol for 5 to 7 minutes.

The study revealed that of the 50 mobile phones in the study, 90% were found to be carrying multiple microorganism bacteria such as E. coli, which is very likely to cause infections. The decontamination results revealed that rubbing alcohol proves effective. The majority of the phones (78%) showed no bacterial growth after decontamination and 12% showed decreased bacterial growth. Another study led by Usha Arora (2009), showed a higher decontamination efficacy of approximately 98% with the 70% rubbing alcohol, compared to Ganapathy Shakthivel’s (2017) results of 86.6%.

Ganapathy Shakthivel (2017) states that the use of cell phones in India accounts for more than 88% of all users in Intensive Care Units and Operation theaters. And if a cell phone is not routinely cleaned in hospitals it becomes “a reservoir of infection.” Phones are a vehicle for the transmission of infection, to both patients and the community. The questionnaire revealed that only 12% of the healthcare workers made a habit of washing their hands before attending to a patient. That being said, “nearly 52% of the workers agreed that mobile phones may act a vector for spread of nosocomial (a disease originating in a hospital) infections.”

Preventative methods for eliminating the spread of infection via cell phones, include training other individuals (children, colleagues) not to touch phones other than their own. Some hospitals have banned or eliminated the use of cell phones during working hours. This may be hard to accomplish, considering you touch your phone on average 2,617 times a day. The most important strategy is simply to clean the device with rubbing alcohol before, during and after work – this regular routine will significantly reduce infections in hospitals.

References

Ganapathy Shakthivel, P.C., G. Velvzhi, G. Sucilathangam, Revathy, C. (2017). Mobile phones in healthcare setting: Potential threat in infection control. Int. J.Curr. Microbio  App. Sci. 6(3): 706-711. doi: https://doi.org/10.20546/ijcmas.2017.603.081

Usha, A., P. Devi, A, Chadga, S. Malhotra. (2009). Cell phones A modern slayhouse for bacteria pathogens. Jk Science. 11(3). Retrieved from http://www.jkscience.org/archive/vol113/6-Original%20Article%20-%20cell%20phones.pdf

Communicating Science: Profile of Sierra Clark by Audrey Carleton

Today we have a guest student post, originally submitted as a class assignment for Communicating Science (CCOM 314). With support from Diane Dechief, Faculty Lecturer at the McGill Writing Centre, we will be sharing more noteworthy student writing right here on The Turret.

Audrey Carleton chose to write a profile on Sierra Clark, a graduate student supervised by Dr. Jill Baumgartner in the Institute for Health and Social Policy.


Sierra Clark

Headline: Sierra Clark on indoor air pollution and academic uncertainty

Subhead: McGill Master’s student tests lifesaving interventions for Tibetan Plateau residents

By: Audrey Carleton

Date: December 1, 2017

Sierra Clark has been reading National Geographic for as long as she can remember. Even before she learned to read, she would eagerly flip through the magazine’s glossy pages to admire its photos. From this young age, she had her sights set on someday working for the publication as an archaeologist.

In the twenty years that followed, Clark had a few changes of heart. When she began her undergraduate degree at McGill University in 2011, she was enrolled with a major in Anthropology. But after sitting through a few convoluted lectures in an introductory anthropology course, she realized the program wasn’t the right fit for her. One meeting with an academic advisor later, she settled on a major in Geography, and swiftly fell in love with it. Upon graduating in 2015, she swiftly enrolled in a Master’s Program in Epidemiology at McGill, which she is completing now. All the while, Clark continued to read National Geographic religiously. Continue reading

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!