Dr. Blake Martin Ontario Sparks Mentorship Session

On Thursday, September 17,  four lucky high school students were given the opportunity to spend an hour chatting to Dr. Blake Martin, a York University neuroscientist who studies biomechanics, kinesiology, physiology and motor learning and control as they relate to dance.

Check out what Shaharzad Wali, a Grade 12 Ontario Ambassador, had to say about the session!

I think I now irrevocably associate peanut-butter-chocolate-chip cookies with Sparks Sessions.

Kidding. (Not really.) Let’s backtrack a little.

On Thursday the 17th I once again made the 1 hour drive to Toronto on Science-Expo business. I’d been to a Sparks Session before, back in May, and I enjoyed it so much I couldn’t help myself from applying again. This time, five Ontario Ambassadors including myself were scheduled to sit and chat with Dr. Blake Martin, who holds – get this – a PhD in Kinesiology, a Graduate Diploma in Neuroscience, a B.F.A. and M.A. in dance, and a bachelor of education. Besides teaching in York University’s Dance Science Certificate program, he speaks provincially, nationally and internationally on issues related to yoga, arts, the brain, anatomy, and classroom management.

To meet and freely ask questions to a person this rounded in their knowledge was truly an exciting experience. As usual, I’d done my reading prior to the session, and was pleasantly surprised to find neuroscience as part of the picture! This was, admittedly, my reasons for making the stretch to Jimmy’s Coffee downtown on a school night (aside from their peanut-butter-chocolate-chip cookies—the joke is, I ate one during my first Session and I still haven’t forgotten how good they were, but I digress!). However, very soon into the casual coffee-time Session I realized those who spread themselves over many interests don’t exactly mark beginnings and endings. Knowledge, rather than being organized in one’s mind by headings and subheadings, is perpetually fluid. Dr. Martin spoke about neuroscience simultaneously with kinesiology, movement, and then with dance, creativity, and combined the whole in a discussion about modern education. I found it inspiring how one person was able to pursue so many things, and in the end, bring them together in a harmonious amalgam and still have the energy to talk about each at length and large. The open, natural drift of conversation was something I really enjoyed (and it also enabled me to bombard the mentor with questions).

Dr. Blake was engaging all throughout. And the session lasted over two hours! As a neuroscientist he was extremely passionate about matters of the brain and cognition, something I really appreciated. What I ultimately obtained from this session was not exactly practical knowledge. Rather, I bettered an abstract understanding of how to approach my goals and passions. Through the sheer enthusiasm Dr. Martin imbued in every word he spoke about the mind and body, or neural processes, or styles and approaches to education, I understood what a faith in your passion for your career, or interest, looks like. I daresay it impacted my plans for my future, in reaffirming my love for neuroscience. All in all, I’d call this Session a success.

Here’s what some other attendees had to say:

“I loved it! It was very cozy and comfortable with just 6 people sitting around a table. I loved the informality of the meeting and especially Dr. Martin, who was awesome.”

“I thought it was very inspiring to meet someone who was able to truly follow his passions, and continues to do his job because he genuinely enjoys it.

“It was amazing to meet someone so passionate about their work. Dr. Martin’s research interests are fascinating.”

Myth Buster – Are windows from cathedrals actually melting?

By: Akshaya, Science Expo Ontario

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You’ve probably seen medieval European cathedrals and have observed the glass. You’ve probably assumed that glass is a liquid, and that since it was hard, you must have assumed further that it was a “super cooled” liquid. This was probably all from internet myths that even chemistry teachers might’ve believed, because the glass panes were thicker at the bottom in medieval windows. Glass, believe it or not, is neither a “super cooled” liquid nor solid!

The Science Behind it:
Glass is an amorphous solid – basically, a state in between liquid and solid. However, this still doesn’t explain the thicker bottomed window because the particles in glass move too slowly for visible changes to occur. This is because solids have a highly organized particle structure, and the millions of atoms are lined up in rows. In that sense, glasses and liquids are both a little disorganized, but amorphous solids are more organized than liquids, but don’t have as rigid of a structure as solids.

When glass is made, the material is cooled from its liquid state quickly, but it doesn’t become a solid when its temperature becomes cooler that a melting point. Technically, the material could be called a “super cooled” liquid, because it’s an immediate state between liquid and glass. For it to become an amorphous solid, it needs to be cooled even more. At this point, movement of the material’s particles slows down and it becomes a glass. Glass is a solid for purposes such as holding a drink, but it’s a disorganized one.

Because it is a disorganized solid, glass can flow a little, extremely slowly. A mathematical model shows that it would take longer than the existence of the universe for room temperature glass from a cathedral to appear melted.

So clearly melting isn’t an option, so you’re probably wondering why the cathedrals look like they’ve been melting. It was most likely because the glass pieces were never all uniformly flat, and the builders decided to put the thicker ones at the bottom of the windows for better support. Looks can be deceiving, and glass certainly isn’t a liquid.

Jennifer Stinson Ontario Sparks Mentorship Session

On Thursday, August 20 from 3:00-4:00pm five lucky high school students were given the opportunity to get an exclusive tour of SickKids’ new research tower and spend an hour with Dr. Jennifer Stinson, PhD, RN-EC, CPNP, a Nurse Clinician-Scientist and an Advanced Practice Nurse at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).

Check out what Sunny Jeong, one of the lucky five selected students had to say about the session!

Sick Kids Hospital exteriors on Elizabeth St in Toronto , shot on Feb 17 2013.(Vince Talotta/Toronto Star)

To some, the idea of research can be abstract and confusing. However, to others, researching is driven through passion and done to have a better understanding on an idea or topic. I was one of the fortunate students—interested in the world of STEM—to have met an esteemed researcher who works with her team in her lab to comprehend and improve patient care through e-health and m-health applications. Dr. Jennifer Stinson is a clinical scientist for the SickKids Hospital, whose focus is to improve the management of chronic pain and other symptoms of young children through the use of technology.

When I first heard of the Sparks Session, I instantly became interested because it was a chance to meet a leading professor, scientist, and researcher whom I shared similar interests with. Prior to the Sparks Session, I read Dr. Stinson’s publications, in order to have a better understanding of what she studied. Her works opened my eyes in seeing potential developments that e-health and m-health advancements can implicate in the medical world. In addition, I truly admired how she was able to orient her research ideas with the current generation of young children.

When I arrived at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, I was eager to meet Dr. Stinson and her team to ask them questions that I wanted to ask. The Research Centre set a professional ambience that echoed the state of the art research projects that were being pursued. And when the four other attendees and myself were escorted into a conference room, we were happily welcomed by Dr. Stinson, and her team. They prepared a presentation for us and explained to us what they had been working on. To have her research thoroughly explained to was an inspiring experience. I was captivated by their work on the Pain Squad app, iCanCope with Pain website, and even the Medi robot. I am convinced that these are ingenious ideas are going to help improve patients’ quality of life during difficult times.

Although we only met for one hour, Dr. Stinson and her team have inspired me in many levels. They sparked my interest in the field of developing e-health applications that have the potential to improve the quality of patient care. They helped me understand that while it is important to find and develop the “unknown” within the STEM fields, it is also important to understand the more humane perspective of things. Dr. Stinson and her team are continuously trying to improve patients’ self-management skills in the most convenient and motivating methods. And, I am so happy to have received the opportunity to learn about it.

Mythbuster – Does sugar make kids hyper?

By: Akshaya, Science Expo Ontario



You’ve probably had the terrifying experience taking care of a accepting a babysitting request to a sweet little angel, only to find out that you’ve lucked out to get them while they were on a ‘sugar high’. But should you really blame the sugar? Let’s find out!

The Science Behind It:

Sugar is believed to cause hyperactive behaviours for a variety of reasons. The reasons range from allergic responses to refined sugar to alterations in blood glucose levels. However, according to a study in 1995, there is almost no evidence of a link between the consumption of sugar and hyperactivity.

There were two studies that were completed. In the first study, children were given sucrose or an artificial sweetener and their behaviour was monitored without the subject knowing whether or not they were given sugar or a placebo. The second study focused on children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and involved subjects between the ages of two and thirty. Both studies concluded that sugar does affect behaviour or cognitive performance.

So why do children seem more hyperactive?

In the first experiment mentioned, half the mothers were led to believe that their children drank something sugary and other mothers were told that it was a placebo. However, all the children were given the placebo drink. The mothers who thought their children consumed a sugary drink thought they were more hyperactive, and resulted in them staying closer to their children and watching them. Based on this experiment’s results you could say that it changed the mothers’ behaviour more than the sons.

This myth is mainly psychological. When people believe a link exists, in this case between sugar and hyperactivity, they see one. Also, often times children are generally more excited at events where sugary foods are usually served, where the environment is a bigger factor than the food itself.

Nonetheless, sugar does have other implications, although it may not make kids hyper, be linked to it is linked to obesity, diabetes, and cavities. Just keep it in moderation!

Mythbuster – Are you left or right brained?

By: Akshaya, Science Expo Ontario





At some point in your life you’ve probably been told that you are either left-brained or right-brained (*cough cough* careers class). And if you have been told that you are right brained you MUST be creative. And if you were left brained you MUST be logical and analytical. Fortunately, you are not one or the other and that is a LIE!

The Science Behind it:

Neuroscientists from the University of Utah conducted a study and scanned 1,000 people’s brains aged 7-29 while they were reading or just lying still. They measured the mental processes occurring on both sides of the brain-a process called functional rationalization. After dividing the brain into 7,000 regions and heavily analyzing each region, no evidence concluded that the participants in the study had a stronger network on either side of the brain. They only found patterns as to why the brain connection might be stronger on one side; stronger connections on one side of the brain often resulted from trauma, intense stressors, and not very common factors.

Steven Novella M.D states that the fixation on individual’s classification as left brained or right brained completely ignores the brain’s anatomy and function. There is a large cable of connection (corpus collosum) between the two hemispheres of the brain and they connect to operate together as a whole. Moreover, the Wada test, where one side of the brain is put to sleep using an anesthetic that targets the blood supply of one hemisphere shows that after a hemisphere has been isolated, other functions are disrupted, proving once again that the two sides are integrated.

The myth was rooted in a discovery in the 1800’s where a person with an injury to one side of their brain suffered the loss of specific abilities. This discovery was then used by psychologists who hung on to the theory, and began classifying personality type based on sides of the brain and their specialization.

The harmless classification eventually spiraled out of control and creating a fixation in society about where individuals should fit. However, this classification proved to be preposterous as Novella states, “Labeling people as left or right brained is no better than approaching people according to their astrological sign or blood type, except that it has the patina of neuroscience that may cause some otherwise-rational people to take the idea seriously.”

So the morale of the story is, don’t close out any potential career paths! Embrace that your brain can be shaped to be both logical and creative!

Science Expo Ambassador Summit

By Ruth Chen (Henry Wise Wood High School), AB Ambassador

Several photos from the summit.
Several photos from the summit.

The Science Expo Summit was a great opportunity for me to meet the other Calgary ambassadors, as well as Janica and Lauren – Marketing Director and Co-Chair!

We began with some icebreakers, which didn’t only turn out to be fun, but also helped us learn about each other’s hobbies and personalities. My personal favorite part of the summit was the workshop on public speaking. Paula Blackmore-White was an amazing speaker herself and offered very insightful tips and reinforced classic techniques. I’ve heard numerous presentations on public speaking prior to this one, but what she had to offer really clicked with me. Some of the tips that stuck with me the most included the power posture, which was one technique I had never heard of, videotaping yourself when rehearsing and using silence to emphasize important points. It was also nice to get to know Sophie and hear her tips on what sorts of activities youth can get involved in during high school, such as SHAD Valley and volunteering at various places. Our short break was also a great opportunity for us to mingle with each other and gave me a chance to get to chat with Sophie about the specific questions I had. The food was definitely a plus.

Last but not least, I was able to really understand my role as an ambassador through the training session and get excited about the neat things we’ll be able to do throughout the year. Overall, I felt that the science expo was really enjoyable and worthwhile to attend!

BC Ambassadors Scavenger Hunt!

The BC Ambassadors gathered together for their on boarding social on August 13th. They knew that they were joining other ambassadors for activities and such, but they were in for a surprise.

The group was split into 4 teams of 4, and they were to complete ridiculous tasks within a set time limit, in order to win the most points. Each task scored differently, but the earlier they are to finish, the more bonus points they’d get. What are some of the ridiculous tasks? Well…

11908263_824980960943401_1549340045_nLaying on a bed…
11873970_838425966277901_1555671633_nCopying a mannequin’s pose…


Taking a “selfie” on an iPhone 6 at an Apple store!

The winning team received cupcakes as a prize, as they scored the most points!

You could tell already that this year’s ambassadors were full of energy and ideas – we’re excited for the upcoming year, BC!

Mythbuster – Can a penny kill you?

By: Akshaya, Science Expo Ontario



Have you ever stood under the CN tower or any tall building for that matter and worry that you might be killed by a penny that was accidentally dropped off the top? Thankfully, we’re here to tell you that that is almost impossible! If a penny hit you after going off the edge of a very tall building, it would feel like someone flicked you on the forehead and not even a hard flick!

The Science Behind it:

A physicist named Louis Bloomfield, from the University of Virginia modelled this situation a few years ago with wind tunnels and helium balloons. He concluded through this experiment that it wouldn’t hurt.

The majority of people believe that when a penny is exposed to gravity, it will accelerate for the entire fall, reaching immense speeds by the time it hits the ground. However, this could only happen if there was no air and the penny was tossed in a vacuum. Therefore, theoretically, yes it can kill you. However, realistically, it cannot due to a number of factors.

One of the factors is drag force which is the collision that occurs between the molecules in the air. Drag force opposes gravitational pull. As the penny falls faster, it experiences the equal amount of air resistance. Therefore, even at its maximum velocity, the drag force still opposes the velocity. Since the two forces are balanced in this situation, the penny does not accelerate. It travels at a constant speed. This is known as terminal velocity.

Another factor is the physical nature of the coin. Pennies experience more air resistance due to their physical nature. They are flat, not very aerodynamic, and light. Therefore, it does not require much drag to slow it down.

It has been assumed that the falling penny accelerates 335 kph from a building such as the Empire State, but in reality it would only reach speeds of 40 kph.

Although a penny being able to kill you from its plummet from a tall building is a myth, it does contain a grain of truth. A penny may not hurt, but if a nail, a pen, or anything with a sharp or pointed edge hits a concentrated area on your head, it could kill you. So don’t relax with the head protection just yet! This may be a post for another time! Stay tuned.

Ontario Ambassador Summit

By Chinmayee Gidwani and Malindu Danthanarayana, ON Ambassadors


Monday July 26, 2015 was the day where young and bright minds from all across Ontario pooled into one gnarly room, officially kicking off the Ontario chapter of the Science Expo Ambassadors Program for 2015. With just one short of 40 ambassadors, it was a captivating experience to see what the summit had brought together – unique, like-minded individuals with unbelievable potential. As each and every one of us listened to the charisma in the opening introductions from Stephanie Chan, Kaitlyn Yong, and Susie Pan, gears were turning and sparking as everyone in that room was growing more and more restless to ignite change on a whole new level. As time passed by with a couple of friendly ice breakers using pink and orange sticky notes to learn ourselves a little better, the summit moved on to the more memorable part of the session, the sound design challenge. Divided into teams and using only our wit with some simple household materials, ambassadors were required to design a cardboard box that would prove to be the best at insulating sound produced by a phone. Believe it or not, the results were quite peculiar from what we expected them to be, which we can all agree foreshadows a new, momentous year for the Science Expo Ambassadors Program jam-packed with fun and new impact.

After a few interesting games and challenges, the ambassadors were brought up to date with Science Expo’s mission; to empower youth and build connections. We learned just how incredible and vast this organization is. From British Columbia, to Alberta, to Ontario, there are about 10, 000 members in this organization. What started out as a small presentation in Guelph became a nation-wide organization dedicated to reaching out and showing youth what they are capable of.

We’re quite excited to begin the ambassador program, as it gives us an amazing opportunity to get involved with Science Expo. Aside from gaining leadership experience, we also get to meet and work with people who have a passion for science, and we stand to learn so much. Above all, we look forward to contributing to this incredible organization and making a difference.

Pluto: A Whole New World

Remember when Pluto was declared a dwarf planet, back in 2006? Many mourned over the fact that the outcast planet is no longer a planet (I certainly did). Instead, it was titled a dwarf planet, along with 8 others. Since then, words have spread, textbooks have been corrected, and there are officially only 8 planets in the solar system.


2006 was also the year when the New Horizons mission was launched. A space probe engineered by the University of Johns Hopkins, and the first to explore Pluto. After 10 years, the voyage is complete with pictures of the planet. As of July 15, 2015, high definition images of Pluto had been released by NASA as we start to learn more about the dwarf planet. Through the New Horizons, we discover Pluto and its personality. It has heart-shaped plains and reddish colour, which somehow, brings a romantic side to Pluto. Its abnormally big moon, Charon, is half its size in diameter. Along with an icy atmosphere and incredible mountains, the geology of Pluto is a worthy discussion. We are exploring way beyond our expectations, and Pluto surprised us all.


Looking at the dwarf planet in a different angle – the sun shines behind the planet, revealing a halo-like ring of fuzzy atmosphere. Breathtaking, I know.

I can’t say I wasn’t excited for Pluto’s come back.

Image Source: NASA