Reflections on WISEMS, the first annual Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium

by Katharine Yagi

Julie Payette

WISEMS participant Julie Payette, B. Eng. McGill '86, Québec Scientific Representative to the US / Canadian Astronaut.

On Saturday October 13th, I attended the first annual Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium (WISEMS). I am a graduate student, studying in the field of ecology and conservation biology. I’ve had a passion for biology since I was three years old, and I haven’t wavered in my choice to follow it through to graduate school. I was fortunate enough to be accepted to McGill University, where so many important historical women have graduated from, and this symposium showed me in detail how many significant contributions to science women from McGill University have made. It was very interesting to hear what these speakers had to say about their own experiences in the field of science and engineering as women. I honestly hadn’t given it much thought in the past, but now that I reflect on the symposium as a whole, women really did, and still do, have to put more effort into their jobs to prove they deserve to be where they are, especially if it is any high-calibre academic position, positions of authority or positions where men tend to dominate.
(more…)

Don’t send that email; pick up the phone!

By Victor Chisholm

Student Holding Books and Talking on Her Cell Phone on a Sunny Afternoon.Travel takes us out of our daily routines and usual places, so with an open mind, a traveller can easily find himself or herself bombarded with new ideas. I was a little surprised –but not that surprised – that it was two recent vacations by bicycle that pointed me to the perils of information in the digital age. All you who rely on search engines for your information, beware!

In the summer of 2011, I spent a few weeks cycling through some of the most beautiful parts of the province of Quebec, camping along the way. Quebec has some excellent tourist offices to help a tired and hungry cyclist find the best places to eat, stock up on provisions, and camp. The staff were very helpful and friendly, but I noticed a digital divide in information. It was not what I expected. (more…)

Alice Johannsen, woman of the mountains

By Ingrid Birker, with help from Tania Aldred

Alice Johannsen

Alice Johannsen prepares for the exhibit "The Pacific in Peace and War", circa 1945. McGill University Archives, PR026515.

Alice Elizabeth Johannsen was born in 1911 in Havana, Cuba, but she was raised in the mountains of Norway and the Adirondacks of New York State. She also worked most of her life at two major cultural institutions sited under two small mountains in the Monteregian chain.  She was a geologist, naturalist and educator.  She was the daughter of well-known skier Herman-Smith “Jackrabbit” Johannsen, who introduced Nordic skiing to Canada. In 1984, when I first met her at her home on Mont Saint-Hilaire, she introduced herself as the “imam of the mountain” and immediately took us to see the glacier-scraped rocks she had picked up in Norway and the Laurentians. These mountain rocks were passed around and launched her vibrant three hour nature walk around the site. At the time she was already officially retired but was still active leading educational tours and providing nature interpretation. Her lifelong love of geology, nature, museum education and recreation was infectious and it started young. (more…)

Sabbatical: Release?

Text and photos by Prof. Prakash Panangaden, School of Computer Science.

Giving a talk in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Giving a talk in Sofia, Bulgaria.

I was curious about the etymology of the word “sabbatical” after just completing one last August. There is the obvious connection to “sabbath”, which suggests a once-every-seven-years cycle. Apparently it comes from the Hebrew “Shmita” and means the land is to lie fallow once every seven years, with activities like planting and harvesting forbidden. So much for etymology!

Perhaps no other academic practice is so open to misunderstanding as the sabbatical. For many outside the University it is deemed to be a year long “holiday.” I remember thinking to myself as I hauled my suitcase off yet another luggage carousel on my way to give yet another talk that I would slug anyone who asked me “how was your vacation?” Mine was anything but a fallow time. I counted 37 lectures that I gave in my sabbatical year, very few of which were repeats. I racked up far too many frequent flyer miles, travelling to Australia, Bulgaria, Germany, Iceland, New Orleans and even Toronto. I was based in Oxford for the whole year so even Toronto was a trans-Atlantic trip. But was it all just a travel junket? (more…)

Origami pteranodon: Mathematical art at the Redpath Museum

Text by Ingrid Birker.

Robert Lang, one of the world’s leading artists in origami—Japanese paper folding—just happens to be a physicist who loves animals and math. He puts mathematics into his folded animal sculptures by using his MacBook Pro, TreeMaker and ReferenceFinder — two freeware programs he created — and Wolfram’s Mathematica, to convert simple stick figures into full-blown origami crease patterns.

According to Lang, “The cool thing about origami is that it is a very mathematical art. In many arts, there’s pure artistic skill. In origami, it’s almost half and half. You can do things with pure art, you can do things with pure math, but if you put them together, you get far more satisfying results than either one alone.” (more…)

Traces from the past

Text by Ingrid Birker. Photos by Torsten Bernhardt.

Wooden column showing the marks of time, Redpath MuseumTypical of a museum junkie, my favourite things in life are leftovers from the past. Most often these historical items are not large or monumental, or even striking. Often, the relics that I am most attracted to are small, rough and left behind by unknown sources. At the Redpath Museum in Montreal, where I have worked since 1981, some leftovers are imbedded into the pillars of century-old columns that hold up the lecture hall. These marks were made by students who listened to countless hours of discourse, and were compelled to leave behind a remnant of their own existence. So they carved their initials into the wood. Often they noted their degree and the year it was granted. For instance, SB Fraser, proudly capitalized his name and graduating degree in “MED” in 1907. Above his inscription is the scratching left by HL Snyder from Shawinigan Falls. He carved his rank as “#2 C.A.U.C. ’44”. It seems that he was training for the army as well as studying and probably served in WWII. Other engravers were clearly sardonic such as: “Chris Columbus 1492.” (more…)

Water at McGill

By Ingrid Birker

Water filling station

In May 2011, when the accumulated rainfall of 102 mm (three times the amount of rain that fell last May) caused the Richelieu River to breach its banks and force over 1,000 people to leave their homes, McGill  installed six high-volume water dispensing and refilling stations. Known as “BYOB”, these large, blue, mobile water kiosks were bought from WaterFillz with the money raised by Class Action 2011. This proudly marks McGill as the first place in the province where you can get municipal water easily rather than searching for a tap in a bistro or café or awkwardly trying to refill your bottle in a bathroom sink. Ready to use, the BYOB is hooked up to a power supply and promotes the consumption of municipal water, which is tested more frequently and rigorously than bottled water. Bottled water is heavily marketed as a smart and healthful choice, but the truth is that it is no purer or safer than local tap water and is much more expensive. At McGill the new BYOB lets us carry a refillable water container and confidently know that we can find six locations near our work, class, or recreational areas where we can easily refill it. This wonderful “blue” addition to the landscape will help McGill reduce the consumption of bottled water on campus — making it a truly “green” initiative. Bottled water creates enormous quantities of waste, most of which is not recycled and ends up in landfills, and each litre of bottled water requires 3 litres of water to produce.  It was not hard to imagine the need for easily accessible drinking water during the hot week of Convocation ceremonies and I spent a few hours talking to people filling up at the BYOB stationed outside McLennan Library. The overall consensus was positive.
(more…)

Convocation connections

By Antonia Di Paola-Belliveau

Convocation tent

Convocation preparations.

Walking onto campus this morning I noticed that the flooring for the convocation tent was being set up.  It felt like someone just punched me in the stomach and tears came to my eyes.  It hit me then and there that one of my own was going to walk across that stage and take her place as one the Science graduates of this great University.  I had been there before watching my husband Tom receive his PhD in Chemistry, my sister Giuseppa and her husband Tony both receiving their PhD in Chemistry and many friends and students that I have been blessed to meet during my time here at McGill. Now my daughter Janet will be starting on her road with a BSc in Chemistry.  Who would have thought oh so many years back when I first started at McGill that this day would come to pass.  On May 30th she and her classmates will take that walk from Redpath Hall to the convocation tent and across that stage in front of many family and friends to receive their diploma as a reward for their hard work and dedication.  To the McGill 2011 graduating class and to all their families I send my congratulations for a job well done!!

Love you Janet!

Antonia Di Paola-Belliveau works in the Faculty of Science as Assistant to the Dean (2003-), but has deep connections with the Department of Chemistry, where she worked as a research technician for Bernard Belleau (1976-1986) and Robert Marchessault (1986-2003)

Spring Convocation ceremonies for the Faculty of Science take place Monday, May 30, 2011. See www.mcgill.ca/students/graduation/convocation for details.

New McGill degree program in Sustainability, Science, and Society

(Guest blog post by Prof. Navin Ramankutty, Department of Geography)

Mongolian Family Uses Solar Energy to Power Home (UN Photo)

Mongolian Family Uses Solar Energy to Power Home (UN photo)

Is it more sustainable to eat locally grown grain-fed meat or organic vegetables imported from far away? If all nations decide to curtail global warming by 2°C, how much would we need to cut emissions, and what are the ethically responsible ways to distribute these reduced emissions? Who pays and who benefits when we create a national park in a developing country?

Do these questions intrigue you?  If so, try the new Sustainability, Science and Society (SSS) program. (more…)

Trees of McGill, and Carrie Derick

By Ingrid Birker

Carrie Derick

Carrie Derick: Canada’s first woman professor, suffragette, social reformer, and founder of McGill’s Genetics Department. Source: Smithsonian Institution/Wikimedia Commons

“I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree”: US poet Joyce Kilmer’s words have become somewhat of a cliché, but this is only because they are true. Few things are more beautiful than the urban forest of McGill in springtime when the buds and blossoms burst forth. If a tree is a poem, then it should be no surprise that the “Trees of McGill” have inspired more than one author to pen a book by that name.

About 90 years ago Canada’s first woman professor, a botanist, gardener, suffragette, social reformer, and founder of McGill’s Genetics Department, wrote the first “Trees of McGill”, a booklet documenting the history and landscaping of the downtown campus. (more…)

Blast From the Past

By Ingrid Birker
Courtesy of Marie Stopes International Australia.

Marie Stopes in her lab, circa 1904. (Photo courtesy of Marie Stopes International Australia)

In 1909—exactly one hundred years ago this year—a 30-year-old rising star in the field of geology named Marie Stopes was brought to the Redpath Museum as an expert to check on the paleobotanical work of the museum’s founder and McGill’s fourth principal, Sir William Dawson.
(more…)

District 9: A Look Ahead at the Not-too-distant Past

Dr. Don Donderi, a retired associate professor in the Department of Psychology, reviews this year’s sleeper hit, District 9. A research psychologist who has published many experimental and theoretical papers in the areas of visual perception, memory, and psychological measurement, Dr. Donderi has studied the UFO phenomenon since 1966.

Image from "District 9"

District 9 is an action-packed drama whose theme is man’s inhumanity to aliens. It features a hidden vial of precious liquid, shoot-ups, explosions, car crashes, a giant spacecraft, antiaircraft missiles, a wicked multinational corporation, a transformer-like battle robot, arthropod-like aliens, and one of the human characters undergoes a Jekyll-and-Hyde physical transmutation. District 9 is staged with an integrated South African cast (the everyman hero is an Afrikaner, his second-in-command a black South African), and it is set largely in a shantytown bordering downtown Johannesburg. The formula is part documentary and part TV commentary and the rest is you-are-there realism; particularly the shoot-em-up part with sweaty, bearded, bald, bad mercenaries firing out of helicopters and armored cars, kicking down doors and fighting Nigerian gangsters, the giant transformer battle robot and the aliens all at the same time. Who could ask for anything more? (more…)

When first the College Rolls receive his name

math-150pxGuest post by Vincent Larochelle, B.Sc. 2009, First Class Honours in Mathematics, Minor Concentration in Classics, Rhodes Scholar.
I’m a mathematician, not a blogger: the formalism of first sentences is quite tedious: I should be interesting you in what is to follow at the moment, and yet the techniques by which I may hope to do so are forever inaccessible to me. Young enthusiast I was when I first walked McGill’s campus, and so remain as I depart it with a freshly earned Bachelor’s degree. Yet, methinks I must have done not all quite wrong, for lo and behold! I was privileged with the Dean’s embrace at graduation. Let then this be the retrace of my first timid yet determined footsteps in the Faculty of Science here at McGill, not so much in the hope of autobiographical exploit, but rather to embrace the tempting Novelty of blogging. (more…)

May Convocation Photos, Afternoon Ceremony

Front row (left to right): Adina Feinberg, Madison Dennis, Carl Nagy, Ioan Filip, Stephanie Teo, Jessica Douglas. Back row (left to right): Timothy Johnstone, Vincent Larochelle, Julia Evans, Philippe Sosoe, Martin Grant (Dean of Science), Kiril Mugerman.

Front row (left to right): Adina Feinberg, Madison Dennis, Carl Nagy, Ioan Filip, Stephanie Teo, Jessica Douglas. Back row (left to right): Timothy Johnstone, Vincent Larochelle, Julia Evans, Philippe Sosoe, Martin Grant (Dean of Science), Kiril Mugerman.

Here are pictures of the Faculty of Science’s honorary doctorate recipient, as well as some major undergraduate prizewinners, following their B.Sc. graduation at the afternoon Convocation ceremony on May 25, 2009. The students are shown with Dean of Science, Martin Grant; or with the Dean and some of their family members. Congratulations to all graduating students! (more…)

May Convocation Photos, Morning Ceremony

Front row (left to right): Laura-Isobel McCall, Jean-Daniel Lalande, Susan Bragg, Joshua Gurberg. Middle row: Daniel Blum, Jean-Sébastien Doucet, Martin Grant (Dean of Science), Adam Fontebasso, Back row: Kiyoko Gotanda

Front row (left to right): Katherine Velghe, Jean-Daniel Lalande, Susan Bragg, Joshua Gurberg. Middle row: Daniel Blum, Jean-Sébastien Doucet, Martin Grant (Dean of Science), Adam Fontebasso, Back row: Kiyoko Gotanda

Here are pictures of the Faculty of Science’s honorary doctorate recipient, as well as some major undergraduate prizewinners, following their B.Sc. graduation at the morning Convocation ceremony on May 25, 2009. The students are shown with Dean of Science, Martin Grant; or with the Dean and some of their family members. Congratulations to all graduating students! (more…)

From Star Trek to Dark Trek

Astrophysicist Vicky Kaspi Reviews the new Star Trek film

Prof. Vicky Kaspi

Prof. Vicky Kaspi

Professor Vicky Kaspi, McGill’s Lorne Trottier Chair in Astrophysics and Cosmology and Canada Research Chair in Observational Astrophysics, is an internationally respected expert on neutron stars. Her list of accomplishments include, most recently, being the first to witness the cosmic act of recycling, involving a dying pulsar devouring material from a nearby companion star. Kaspi, once an avowed Trekkie who credited her early interest in science to the original Star Trek television series, gladly agreed to review the new Star Trek film for us.

Star Trek, the cliché goes, is all about the characters. As much as I hate clichés, I tend to agree with this one. The original series had an interesting, natural mix of people that made their interactions plausible and recognizable. (more…)

A Worthy World of Wonders

Mario “Junior” Lemire, left, touches a volcanic bomb held by Philippe Taylor. (Owen Egan Photo)

Mario “Junior” Lemire, left, touches a volcanic bomb held by Philippe Taylor. (Owen Egan Photo)

Some are in wheelchairs, while others sit in specialized seats. They are disabled in a variety of ways, but the most evident thing the eight children in the library at l’École secondaire Joseph-Charbonneau share on this particular day is the look of astonished wonder in their eyes. (more…)

Karim Nader on memory reconsolidation

Prof. Karim Nader, Department of Psychology

Prof. Karim Nader, Department of Psychology

McGill neuroscientist Dr. Karim Nader (Department of Psychology) explains the theory of memory reconsolidation and describes how it might be used to treat anxiety disorders. Visit the Technology Review website to watch Professor Nader’s video.

Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.