This blog is a collaborative effort between the Foundation for Student Science and Technology (formerly the Canadian Young Scientist Journal) and Science.gc.ca. Our aim is to offer an interactive platform where Canadian students can talk about their passions, challenges and ideas on how to further pursue scientific interests and education. We welcome new contributors -- if you are interested please contact us at information@science.gc.ca.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Hello Love

Originally Published: May 4, 2015
Written by Yen Truong

Hello Love,

When we met, I had no idea that you would mean this much you me. I was young, naïve, and did not realize how wonderful you were. I did not appreciate all the beauty and wisdom that you shared with the world. I could not understand your complexity. I was scared to get to you know better. Your world was so different from one I had previously known.

I took a chance and let myself get lost in your world. You let me enter and allowed me to explore every detail about you. I learned about myself in ways I could have never imagined and discovered the world through a point of view unseen to me before. I was so amazed with how well you knew and understood everything. You had an idea, a theory, an explanation for almost anything and everything. You gave me a new breath of life and a reason to want to do what I am doing.

Without a doubt, my most memorable memory with you was at the Huntsman Marine Science Center in New Brunswick. After a week of being immersed in your marine environment, I knew we were a pair meant for the end. Being in Passamaquoddy Bay, I had the chance to learn so much about high tides, low tides, and everything in between. From gazing at the stars on the first night, to a 3-hour barnacle lab on the last day, you never failed to amaze me with your beauty, nor captivate me with your information. Because of this experience, I knew that we would be perfect together.

Science, I love everything about you. I love rearranging complex equations to see that it can easily be expressed with just a few terms. I love observing evolutionary changes throughout history. I even love carbon because it makes up pretty much everything. Even the things I don’t like (geology, I’m looking at you) – I love.

I have learned so much from you and I still have so much more to learn. I have no way to show my gratitude for everything you have given me. I respect all your ideas and welcome them with an open mind. However, I want to be held accountable for my own ideas and so I must have courage to engage in this field of study. I want to join you in the future, so that I can help you inspire a new generation of scientists eager to join your revolution. Learning from the great minds of the past, I want to embrace the world of science now, to lead the scientists of the future.

You mean more to me than I could ever describe in words. You are the reason for everything and the logic behind every decision I make. I am who I am because of you and for that, I will always love you.

With undying love,
Yen <3

Growing up, science, especially biology, had always interested me.

Originally Published: May 4, 2015
Written by Sarina Lalla

Growing up, science, especially biology, had always interested me. However, my science story really took off when I was 14 years old. That was the year I actually had biology as a subject for the first time, and I was in awe. The human body and its effectiveness, and the fact that it was almost like a machine fascinated me. However, more importantly, that was also the year that my mother decided that I was old enough to learn about her story.

When my mother was nineteen years old, she was diagnosed with stage 4B Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Can you imagine being in your first year of college and finding out that you have cancer? That you’ll have to spend the year in a hospital exposed to chemicals that’ll make you sick? That you’ll have to walk around your school, trying to catch up on classes you had to miss, all while having a bald head from chemotherapy that’ll make everybody stare at you? I most certainly cannot. However, my mom fought through it and stayed positive no matter what, and I admire her so much for that. However, the suffering that she endured from her cancer did not go away after she went into remission. Even today, she suffers from side effects from chemotherapy. Listening to my mother’s story, sharing her pain and knowing that there are thousands of other people in Canada that go through this and sometimes don’t survive woke me up. From that day on, I vowed to make a difference in the world of cancer through scientific research and hopefully by becoming an oncologist.

That summer, I was selected for a youth internship program at the Institut National de Recherche Scientifique where I studied a protein seen in aggressive breast cancers, Galectin-7. I studied the different transcription factors that inhibited or promoted its production with a brilliant researcher. That was definitely the experience of a lifetime for me, as it was the first time I actually got to work in a lab setting professionally, and working with cancers was unbelievable.

Since then, I have wanted to push my research further, not only for cancer, but for general human physiology. So, I decided to pursue a career in science and am currently studying Health Sciences at Cégep Gérald-Godin, where I spend 3-4 hours in a lab every week.
In terms of current projects, I have co-organized two studies on mental health over the past couple of years, and I spent last summer learning about medicine and health care by attending life-changing conferences at UC Berkeley and University of Toronto. I was exposed to a lot of hands-on experience that will be useful to me in the future. Some other projects I am organizing at the moment are looking quite bright: I will be spending this summer organizing a study on the effectiveness of blister packs versus pill bottles for adherence to prescriptions. I also intend to travel to Costa Rica for a biology research project next winter with my cégep.

I definitely haven’t forgotten about my cancer dream, though! I’ve been focusing my time on organizing and attending fundraisers for cancer research, benefitting the Canadian Cancer Society, The Cedars Cancer Institute in Montreal, and The Lymphoma and Leukemia Society of Canada. I just recently cut 10 inches of my hair to donate for wigs given to cancer patients. I have also been volunteering at the oncology clinic of my local hospital. Seeing patients with smiles on their faces even through intensive treatment just brightens my day, and I hope that one day, I contribute to finding a cure and make patients stop suffering. This one’s for you, Mom.

Considerations for scientific research

Originally Published: May 4, 2015
Written by Abeera Shahid

Scientific research is happening across the world in environments such as university labs and pharmaceutical companies. Globalization has allowed for the sharing of this research and people are now collaborating across borders. This is beneficial, as scientific research continues to be the driving force in our understanding of diseases, the environment and beyond, and any progress can make all the difference. In 2013, our country’s most popular discoveries were cancer-related. For example, 2 Ottawa researchers managed to create 2 cancer-killing, or oncolytic, viruses that block antiviral proteins in cancer cells only. This discovery may allow healthy cells to remain untouched and minimize the damage that a patient undergoes during treatment in the future. For research like this to occur, there are considerations about scientific research one must acknowledge.

1. Scientific research is dependent on funding

If you ask a professor in charge of a university lab what their time is spent on, it is surprisingly not in the lab. As one progresses in academia, there is a shift from being a bench researcher (in the lab), to being a supervisor who secures funding and who mentors graduate students. It is important to understand that money plays a large role in where research is concentrated. We no longer live in a society where research is done mainly for the purpose of understanding our surroundings. Researchers are now looking to solve or better understand complex problems such as climate change and cancer that go beyond what meets the eye.  

2. Scientific research spreads

The discovery of the vaccine by Edward Jenner, a British doctor, changed the world. In the 18thcentury. At the time, smallpox was killing 1 in 10 children in some European countries. Obtaining immunity to this disease at the time consisted of contracting the disease and surviving it. Jenner noticed that milkmaids working with cows that would catch cowpox (a non fatal disease similar to smallpox) seemed to be immune to smallpox itself. He then decided to try and ‘transfer’ their immunity to others. He took the fluid from a milk maiden’s cowpox sores. He then cut a young boy’s arms and inserted the fluid into his body. After a couple of days, he exposed the boy to smallpox and discovered that he was immune. This technique is referred to as the first vaccination. The concept of vaccinations is now prominent throughout the world and it shows that over time, scientific research has been able to cross borders, and more so with the development of technology.

3. Techniques and methods across fields are connected

A polymerase chain reaction machine is able to amplify a small DNA sample for research use. You will find this machine in labs around the world and it serves as a tool in many different fields. You will see it in genetics labs, but also lipid, protein, and many other types of labs. The lesson to be learned is that researchers use the same techniques for different purposes throughout the world. This makes it possible for researchers to switch to a similar field that isn't necessarily tied to the topic they study. Hence, research does not put people in boxes but allows for flexibility and collaboration.

4. Time and failure are research’s best friends

The general population gets excited when they hear about a discovery made on the molecular level of a disease such as cancer. However, transferring research from the lab to application requires time and is challenging. Failure is something researchers encounter on a daily basis and it inevitably influences the time it takes for discoveries to be made.  
These are some considerations to keep in mind when viewing the world of research. You will learn more by being involved and as you speak to people in the field.  

Scientific research is an area that will continue to play a role in Canada and around the world. Where will it take you?

My Love Letter to you, Science

Originally Published: May 4, 2015
Written by Andy Ou

My Love Letter to you, Science

Life would be very boring and uninteresting without science. It is science that gives us inspiration and motivation to discover more about life and matters around us. It provokes our human’s curiosity and encourages us to discover more secrets and mysteries behind every problem that humans have encountered in life.

When I was around 7 years old, I wrote, “I want to be a CEO” on a sheet of paper and showed it to my parents. Honestly, I did not even know what a CEO was and what the acronym stood for. After one year, I told them that I want to be a writer because I love to write short stories to express my internal feelings. They were very disappointed after hearing the news. After another year, I lost interest in becoming a writer and a CEO. I realized that I did not know what to do with life anymore. However, it was science that began to change my life. In grade 5, I won a science fair contest! I was so delighted and proud of myself. After that school year, I said, “I love science”. It may sound naïve and childish, but surprisingly, I have carried that dream all the way to high school and now to my undergrad years up ahead. Since I was little like a teddy bear, I have had a dream that someday I will work in a lab with my team and professors and discover something that is outstanding and unbelievable.

In grade 9, I have asked the question, “What is biology etc.?” I found out that it is the study of life. Then, I asked myself, “What is life and what is the purpose of it?” In the animal kingdom, the purpose of life is to reproduce and continue on the generation by passing on genetics, which are known as DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), to their offspring. After grade 10, I asked a lot more scientific questions like, “How does the brain work?” and it led me to more “what if” questions. I became very inquisitive and curious.

After four years of high school, I have truly fallen in love with science. I love biology so much that I treat it like a friend of mine. Everyday, when I encounter something interesting, I would try to incorporate science. Later on, I start making connections between our everyday life and science. During my free time, when I am extremely bored, I often start thinking about random things to integrate science. For example, I wrote:
“I love you, but we are too young to make such a decision since our frontal lobes are not fully developed. “
“The distance between us is actually zero, where our hearts collide.”
“We follow the same heartbeat and pattern. Our trig functions match perfectly together.”
“The bond between us is stronger than any bond that exists in the chemistry world.”
This may sound cheesy and weird, but it feels amazing writing these phrases and anyone can actually use them as love phrases.

Therefore, I have decided to continue my journey of pursuing my dream to become a doctor or a scientist to make the world a better place and a true difference in other people’s lives. Science is the reason, I decided to pursue my postsecondary education in McGill University, where I can continue learning more about science and its outstanding researches. In the end, it is science that gives us, humans, curiosity and the true meaning of existing in this world or perhaps, I should say universe.

Your sciencekiddo,
Andy Ou

Dear Science

Originally Published: May 4, 2015
Written by Aaron Pan

Dear Science,

I remember our first meeting; it was in grade 4, and you had given me an implant of a fossil. Ever since that day, I’ve known that you are the one I’ve been waiting for.

Our journey together has taken us farther than I ever imagined. You have shown me everything from the Great Red Spot on Jupiter to a hydrochloric acid-sodium hydroxide titration. Science, you have shown me the world, and beyond.

Science, you are honestly the best thing ever. I have never valued anything so much. I found you because you are one I can use to share my deepest thoughts, my biggest worries, and all my excitement. Every time I write my lab reports, I dedicate it to science, the science that is around me, and the science I perform.

Every moment with you is filled with joy and fulfillment. Thank you for everything that you have done for me; I know I act like I don’t really care, but deep inside I am melting of your sweetness. Me and you, you and me, we together form real chemistry. You have inspired me to become a better person; you have taught me the importance of responsibility. I have become aware of the environmental impacts of my every move, and I will make every effort to minimize this. You have shown me a world from a new perspective, a microscopic perspective, where in which empty space is sparsely filled with tiny electrons, protons, and neutrons. I will never forget how empty this universe really is; I will never forget how little probability there is for me to find matter, the matter of science.

I work hard to be able to stay with you. The long nights of solving physics equations, filled with propagating uncertainties and making insignificant assumptions. But I know you are worth it, because you have shown me the courage to pursuit my dream, and make a positive impact for myself and others in the future. Every joule I put into my work gets efficiently transferred to do work in you.

Science, I love you so much, and I appreciate that I have you in my life. I know we have reactions of ups and downs, but we will always find the energy to continue moving up. Don’t worry, Science, I would never cheat on you, not even on Math. You know it too!

Your True Love,
Aaron Pan

P.S. Take me travelling this summer, to a black hole, so that we can be together as one forever.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Who is a researcher?

Originally Published: January 12, 2015
Written by Arjun Pandey
Edited by Sarina Lalla and Abeera Shahid

Because of the broad nature of scientific research, the definition of a researcher is open-ended. A scientific researcher is considered to be anyone who attempts to improve our understanding of science often by building upon research done by others. There are three primary types of researchers: amateur researchers, university researchers, and private/company-based researchers.

Amateur researchers are ordinary, everyday people, with no qualifications or degrees, who attempt to broaden the horizons of science by conducting research. Individuals as young as 11 or 12, who participate in local science fairs are examples of this type of researcher.
University-based and company-based researchers are considered to be professional ones, and typically have degrees in the subject area of their research. To become a professional researcher, one usually needs a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a PhD. A bachelor’s degree commonly takes 4 years to earn, a master’s degree takes an additional two years, and a PhD can take another 4-5 years after that. A bachelor’s or master’s degree will typically suffice for company-based researchers, while senior company positions and university researchers require a PhD.

A university researcher is an individual who receives grants and is funded by a university to do scientific research. This type of researcher has more freedom and flexibility because they do research based on what they think is important. A company-based researcher on the other hand is someone who is employed by a private corporation to investigate scientific fields for often the purpose of profit. At companies such as The Berma Research Group, researchers have a set focus and deadlines.

It is important to remember that these three types of researchers will make a difference in the world of science, and depending who you are and what environment you want to work in, you can pick which branch you prefer. This is one of the many reasons that research is so diverse, but every research helps science move a step forward, no matter what.

Research: The Essentials

Originally Published: January 12, 2015
Written by Arjun Pandey
Edited by Abeera Shahid and Sarina Lalla

Please note that this piece is first in a series of blogs intended to introduce students to the area of research. They reflect the opinions of student researchers and not necessarily of the Foundation for Student Science and Technology.

As humans, we have an inherent desire to understand the world around us. Why are we here? Why is everything the way it is? Where did we come from? Where are we headed? These questions have profound implications and no sole answer, but they challenge us to try and understand the world we live in.  Through the use of research, people around the world attempt to explore the answers to complex questions, to solve challenging problems and ultimately to broaden our view of the world.

Research is defined as a method to explain, process, and analyze an observed phenomenon. Scientific research often consists of these components (not necessarily in this order):

  1. An observation is made.
  2. A question is asked.
  3. Based on the prior research of others, a hypothesis, or educated guess of the answer is made.
  4. The hypothesis is tested through a scientific experiment.
  5. Experiments are repeated to ensure their validity, because any one result is not an accurate representation of reality.
  6. The results of the experiment(s) are compiled and analyzed.
  7. Explanations, and rationales to explain the outcomes of the experiment are developed, and then tested through future research.

The description above is often referred to as the scientific method. Is that all research is? Definitely not! The scientific method is often taught to students from a young age as a rigid structure one must follow to be a scientist. This assumption is flawed as scientific research can be very flexible and open ended. There are scientists who may follow this method but steps may not be followed in order or may be repeated. For example, one can design an experiment where the answer cannot be predicted and have it result in failure. Then the researcher may go back to change the question they were asking and it might lead to an observation that allows them to create a hypothesis. The takeaway is that there is no one method to research, but asking questions and making observations are important parts of the process.

Ultimately, scientific research is for those of us who are curious about the world around us and want to play an active role in understanding it. Research conducted at universities and companies impacts all individuals in society and hence, it is essential that we all are aware of the field. So what are you waiting for? Start your journey in the area of research today, all you need is a lightbulb!