Let's Talk Science

“To a kid in Grade Five, scientific topics such as anatomy or medicine might not seem terribly interesting,” says Jessy Livingston-Thomas, a PhD student at UPEI’s Atlantic Veterinary College, and the coordinator of UPEI’s Let’s Talk Science outreach program. “But teach it as Grossology — the study of burps, scabs, and burns — and suddenly they’re fascinated.”

Let’s Talk Science is a national charitable organization that creates and delivers science-learning programs that turn kids on to science and develop their potential to become Canada’s next generation of researchers and innovators. Let’s Talk Science trains more than 2,500 outreach volunteers- post-secondary students and faculty from 33 universities and colleges across Canada – to bring science to life.

“It’s a great organization to work with,” says Livingston-Thomas. “They provide great resources for us as volunteers, but they’re also flexible enough to allow us to bring some of our own research and specialities into the classroom.”

The Let’s Talk Science volunteers from UPEI visit students across the province, demonstrating hands-on science.

“There are some fun activity kits that we can use with the kids,” explains Livingston-Thomas. “The ‘bone-zone’ is very popular with younger students. There are different demonstrations we can give for high school students, including a forensic science kit we call CSI PEI.”

The CSI PEI kit, named after the popular television show, includes tools for fingerprinting, footprint analysis, and ink chromatography.

“The volunteers for UPEI’s Let’s Talk Science are mostly graduate students,” says Livingston-Thomas. “We’ve visited between six and eight schools over the school year. It’s a lot of fun, and a warm-up for what will be our biggest project of the year: our rural road trip.”

Livingston-Thomas and the rest of the volunteers are organizing a two-day road trip at the end of May to eastern Prince Edward Island.

“Over the two days, we’ll be teaching between six- and seven-hundred students at four different schools,” says Livingston-Thomas with a smile. “It’s a lot of fun for the kids, but a lot of fun for us, too. I think it’s important for them to meet people who work and study as researchers, and see that it’s a real possibility for them in the future.”

Spring hunting in winter

Kyle Knysh pores over a large aerial photo of an area in eastern PEI. Tiny red and yellow stickers mark the location of freshwater springs.

“The springs are easier to find in the winter,” he says, “since the water bubbles up fast enough that it doesn’t freeze.”

Knysh is a master’s student in UPEI’s Biology Department. He’s investigating the insect life found in the springs at the headwaters of eastern PEI rivers through a project called Watershed Evaluation of Beneficial Management Practices, or WEBs.

“Springs are quite interesting,” says Knysh. “I made a preliminary visit last summer to 12 of the springs I’ll be working on during my research. The temperature changes only a few degrees between summer and winter. That consistency can mean interesting adaptations in the species that live there.”

The first part of Knysh’s project involves finding the springs, which at this time of year involves a lot of snowshoeing with a GPS in hand, searching for open water.

Even in the deep winter, the headwater springs remain open waterEven in the deep winter, the headwater springs remain open water

“I’m taking an inventory of the locations I’ll use in the study. On these first trips, I’m taking measurements of the water for several indicators. I’ll return later to take samples of the insect life in each.”

Over the next two years of the project, Knysh hopes to compare the insect life in the various springs. The goal is to see how the land use around the spring affects insect life and water quality.

“For example,” says Knysh, “does the number and type of insects in a spring surrounded by forest differ from one surrounded by farmland?”

Knysh’s supervisors in this project are Dr. Donna Giberson, professor of Biology at UPEI, and Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, associate professor of Biology and UPEI’s Canada Research Chair in Watershed Ecological Integrity.