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.”

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.

Ontario Ambassador Summit

By Chinmayee Gidwani and Malindu Danthanarayana, ON Ambassadors

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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.

Dr. Adetola Adesida talks with Lucas Mina on Stem Cells

Lucas Mina is a grade 11 student and Science Expo Alberta ambassador. 

Stem cells have the wondrous potential of developing into different types of cells. In many tissues and organs, stem cells can differentiate into more specialized cells, such as red blood cells or skin cells. As such, stem cells hold promise in repairing damaged tissue and represent hope for cures to a number of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries and heart diseases.

Sadly, people know little about stem cell research.  Furthermore, there has been lots of negative publicity on the use of stem cells taken from embryos. Stem cell research, however, has since progressed toward more acceptable alternatives, through the contributions of individuals like Dr. Adetola Adesida, who devote their entire working lives to developing stem cell therapy as a potential cure for a number of ailments.

Dr. Adetola Adesida, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta’s  Division of Orthopaedic Surgery and Surgical Research, studies osteoarthritis, a joint disease affecting 1 in every 10 people in Canada. Osteoarthritis is characterized by the breakdown the articular cartilage – that is, the cartilage found on joints which assist movement. Presently, osteoarthritis lacks a cure. Dr. Adetola Adesida hopes to treat osteoarthritis through the use of stem cells and tissue engineering.

Dr. Adetola obtained an honours bachelor’s degree in biological and medicinal chemistry and a master’s degree in biological chemistry at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom. He later completed his doctoral degree in pharmacy at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom and subsequently received training at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research in Manchester and at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

As an ambassador for Science Expo, I was given the task of interviewing Dr. Adetola Adesida. I met him one Thursday morning in his office. Bright-eyed and enthusiastic, he gave me a tour of his laboratory, while describing his research. For the past six years, he and his team have been trying to generate cartilage.  They do this by culturing adult-derived stem cells in polymer scaffolds, to promote the formation of tissue. By studying factors that will enhance cell growth and production, they are producing meniscus.  Meniscus transplants will be key to treating osteoarthritis.

In the very near future, Dr. Adesida hopes to make transplants available to human subjects.  In the interview below, Dr. Adesida shares his story about what inspires him, the challenges he confronts, and his vision of the future of stem cell research.


Lucas Mina (LM): What has brought you to this point in your career?

Dr. Adetola Adesida (AA): I would probably say my biggest inspiration came from my brothers that went into science. I just had that passion for biology, and I knew at a very young age that I was going to be doing something along those lines. When I got into university, the passion was still very much there with biology, and I just progressed into my PhD in the UK, and then finally finding myself here in a faculty position.

LM: How do you think attending different universities helped you in terms of exposure?

AA: I would say it helped me a great deal. I think one of the nice things about university is that you have that diversity, and people approach things from different angles, and that is very encouraging. It’s more or less like an incubator for ideas. You get to meet people that have similar interests, and some people have different interests. Everybody wants to make a difference in what they’re doing, and when you see that happening in one place, it energizes you, and drives you to do something that’s going to have an impact. So, I think the universities were absolutely vital for me to be doing what I’m doing.

LM: What is the focus of your work?

AA: As you probably know, osteoarthritis is one of the biggest cause of occupational disability in the world. This is when people have pain in the joints, mostly in the knee. It can happen in any other joints, but the knee is the big one, because obviously if your knees are not working, you can’t stand, you can’t walk, you can’t do many things. We are trying to make tissues that can replace damaged joint tissues, and we can use stem cells to do that.

LM: What is your opinion on the use of embryonic stem cells?

AA: What I don’t like about embryonic [stem cells] is when it comes from fetal tissue — because we’re talking about a whole person: We don’t know what went wrong, but for some reason, the fetus didn’t survive. I think if people sourced stem cells from fetuses, it will encourage a market for fetuses, and that will promote a lot of atrocities. I think the poor will be exploited, and they will be used as production machines for that. The argument that there are some [conditions] that cannot be treated WITHOUT embryonic stem cells is very thin. There are other sources of stem cells that have a lot of potential. Recent developments regarding induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells or iPSCs), is one example. So more research is needed.

LM: What interesting processes does your team go through?

AA: As your career progresses, you find that people’s thought processes and approaches to their work are fascinating.  For example, I might have an idea about something, and I just throw it out there. Then you see people take that idea and then approach it differently to really bring it to fruition. That is one thing I love with what I do.

LM: Do you face any challenges in your work?

AA: I think the greatest challenge in academic research is funding. Funding is so vital to what we do. If you don’t have funding, then your operation pretty much shuts down. We have been very fortunate, and we’ve had some excellent funding.

LM: What is required of a research scientist that often people are unaware of?

AA: What people don’t see is that scientists work incredibly long hours. You are thinking all the time. You’re thinking about the experiments you’re going to do. Where is it going to go? What is the story? What impact is it going to make? That’s probably one thing people don’t see. Yes, scientists are smart, but they work extremely hard.

LM: Would you say your work has greatly influenced your life outside of the office?

AA: The amount of time [my work] takes has enabled me to really value time. When I spend time with my children, I know that that time is really for them – no work is allowed. Then when I’m working, I’m working. I think my work has really helped me to be much more conscious of my time.

LM: How do you integrate faith with your work in science?

AA: When I look at my faith (Christianity) and science, [is that] I find a deeper understanding of what I do. I think having faith brings clarity to what you’re doing, and also assesses the boundary line you should not cross.

LM: What do you foresee yourself doing in the next few years?

AA: I foresee a position where I will be more of a mentor to younger scientists.

LM: What is your message to the youth who plan to take up a career in scientific research?

AA: They should do something they love to do, and what they truly feel gifted in doing. They must have passion for what they want to do, and they must also have the drive. There will be times of excitement, and there will be times of challenge. More importantly, youth need to understand that there’s so much to learn in failure, and very little to learn in success. Failure is not always the end; it just means success is around the corner.


As I reflected on my time with Dr. Adetola, I was impressed by his attitude towards his work and his unwavering commitment to it. The results of research are not instant, and the scientific process takes a lot of time, with endless revisions of set-ups, repetition of procedures, re-thinking and meticulous observations. One needs to see a deeper value to the lasting contribution of the research process in order to persevere and to make discoveries.  What has stayed with me was his passion and commitment: “You must love what you’re doing as a scientist. You have to have uncommon dedication.”

The original blog post can be found here.

Team Scarborough: My Ambassador Experience

We are excited to feature our 2012-2013 Science Expo Ambassadors as guest bloggers over the next few weeks leading up to the 2013 Science Expo Conference. During November and December, they held regional Fall Info Nights from the Greater Toronto Area all the way to Windsor, Ontario to inspire interest in STEM, highlight upcoming STEM opportunities, showcase local involvement in extracurricular STEM and promote the 2013 Science Expo Conference. Ambassadors will be sharing their stories on their ambassador experience, their Fall Info Night, STEM topics and life-changing STEM opportunities that they have participated in. 

 

Team Scarborough
Shakeel Qureshi, David Tsui and Martin Wu

Our Fall Information Night was a very valuable and fun experience for our entire group. We learned a lot from each other and were able to successfully execute the event! At first, we had a lot of great ideas for our FIN, and we narrowed it down to a few really great ideas that we could use. We managed to work together to get a great FIN organized with amazing speakers and activities!

(more…)

Team Burlington: My Ambassador Experience

We are excited to feature our 2012-2013 Science Expo Ambassadors as guest bloggers over the next few weeks leading up to the 2013 Science Expo Conference. During November and December, they held regional Fall Info Nights from the Greater Toronto Area all the way to Windsor, Ontario to inspire interest in STEM, highlight upcoming STEM opportunities, showcase local involvement in extracurricular STEM and promote the 2013 Science Expo Conference. Ambassadors will be sharing their stories on their ambassador experience, their Fall Info Night, STEM topics and life-changing STEM opportunities that they have participated in. 

 

Team Burlington
Nupur Kumar

To this point, being a Science Expo Ambassador has taught me many skills and has strengthened many of my pre-existing skills. For one, being an independent group, I learned how to manage large events independently and how to work on getting past the difficulties that inevitably arise when planning and executing events. This was most specifically seen with the troubles I had to face when finding a venue. Due to the teacher strikes, I was unable to have the event at my high school (the original plan) and thus had to struggle to find a new location for my FIN in less than two weeks. Although this was quite stressful, I learnt to persevere and find an alternative! Moreover, independently planning this large scale event taught me how to independently solve these problems and take executive decisions when necessary.

I feel that my experience as an ambassador has been excellent but it would be a great asset to have more ambassadors for this region because at times, it got a little difficult to manage with other events and priorities going on. In addition, having to deal with all the issues that arose while trying to plan the FIN was demotivating at times when working alone. Hopefully my Fall Info Night attracted keen students who will participate in the Science Expo ambassador program next year and will form a Team Burlington group!

Apart from the FIN, I feel that Science Expo is not only a great way to reach out to peers and educate them in STEM related field, but also great for ambassadors. This is because through this process we are able to obtain many event-coordinating skills as well as learn about STEM ourselves, in the process of informing others. Also, it has been great getting to meet (if over the internet counts) so many motivated and hardworking individuals who strive for the same goals as myself.  This is motivating and encouraging to be to continue my involvement with such groups and strive to work to the best of my ability. In addition it was been great to see that many of the students involved with Science Expo are involved with many other groups/events that I am involved in such as TEDxYouthTO and DECA, through which I may have never met such great people.

Throughout this entire process TNJ has been very supportive with last minute difficulties, other personal issues which hindered my ability to attend meeting etc for a while. You guys are doing a great job keeping the ambassadors on track while keeping Science Expo fun and exciting for everyone!

Overall, so far I’ve had a great experience and learnt a lot from the more difficult parts of my experience as a Science Expo Ambassador. I look forward to be able to meeting all the Ambassadors and TNJ soon!!

Team Brantford: My Ambassador Experience

We are excited to feature our 2012-2013 Science Expo Ambassadors as guest bloggers over the next few weeks leading up to the 2013 Science Expo Conference. During November and December, they held regional Fall Info Nights from the Greater Toronto Area all the way to Windsor, Ontario to inspire interest in STEM, highlight upcoming STEM opportunities, showcase local involvement in extracurricular STEM and promote the 2013 Science Expo Conference. Ambassadors will be sharing their stories on their ambassador experience, their Fall Info Night, STEM topics and life-changing STEM opportunities that they have participated in. 

Team Brantford
Sarah Wu

December 4th 2012. Be there or be square, I warned. Turns out, 120 people were not squares, but rather the round pegs in the square holes. In a school lacking STEM enrichment opportunities, my Fall Info Night epitomized my hopes and dreams for our school population. (more…)

Team Mississauga: My Ambassador Experience

We are excited to feature our 2012-2013 Science Expo Ambassadors as guest bloggers over the next few weeks leading up to the 2013 Science Expo Conference. During November and December, they held regional Fall Info Nights from the Greater Toronto Area all the way to Windsor, Ontario to inspire interest in STEM, highlight upcoming STEM opportunities, showcase local involvement in extracurricular STEM and promote the 2013 Science Expo Conference. Ambassadors will be sharing their stories on their ambassador experience, their Fall Info Night, STEM topics and life-changing STEM opportunities that they have participated in. 

 

Team Mississauga/Etobicoke
Rameesha Zafeer, Kabir Nadkarni, Jenny Pan, Ashlyn Cherian , Ali Jafri, Syed Kamran, Natalia Robert-Nunez, Susan Dong

On Saturday December 1st, 2012, the Etobicoke/Mississauga Science Expo ambassador group hosted Fall Info Day at the Meadowvale Community Centre. The turnout was great, with over 40 students attending! The two and a half hour event was jam-packed with exciting demos, influential speakers, and an interactive design challenge.

Our experience with Science Expo was filled with wonderful times; it was interesting to become friends since we were all youth-minded individuals. Our experience working for Science Expo has helped us to develop many skills and meet many accomplished students. Working together to prepare the Science Expo Fall Info Night gave us all an opportunity to communicate, coordinate and organize an enriching info night for every student. Being 2011-2012 ambassadorve has made us more confident and better leaders.

The process of organizing this event has given us plenty of experience and helped us to build upon many skills, like responsibility and time management, which in the future becomes a big advantage. The Fall Info Day, was not only a chance for other students to learn about enriching opportunities, it was also an opportunity for us to learn about various programs that we could apply to ourselves. Everything, from dividing the work for the Fall Info Day, to organizing the full event was a fun-filled experience, as it gave us all a chance to make new friends, and create lifelong friendships.

As ambassadors, we are very proud to be a part of this non-profit organization. Thank you Science Expo for exposing us to this excellent opportunity and we hope to continue learning and gaining more!

 

Team Barrie: Youth, Science and the Future

We are excited to feature our 2012-2013 Science Expo Ambassadors as guest bloggers over the next few weeks leading up to the 2013 Science Expo Conference. During November and December, they held regional Fall Info Nights from the Greater Toronto Area all the way to Windsor, Ontario to inspire interest in STEM, highlight upcoming STEM opportunities, showcase local involvement in extracurricular STEM and promote the 2013 Science Expo Conference. Ambassadors will be sharing their stories on their ambassador experience, their Fall Info Night, STEM topics and life-changing STEM opportunities that they have participated in. 

Team Barrie
Jacob Hopper and Lucy Luo 

“Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.” – Carl Sagan

Today, the world we live in is an ever-changing one. I believe this to be, above all else, a testament to the years of progress people have given not only to ensuring our advancement as a species, but towards feeding humanity’s insatiable hunger for knowledge. Now, it is clear not everyone has equal interest in the intellectual advancement of humans, as many are quite content to sit on the sidelines as discoveries are made and civilization is improved, though there does happen to be one group of us that unanimously subscribes to the belief that we are not made in order to simply survive; but to understand. (more…)

Team North York: My Ambassador Experience

We are excited to feature our 2012-2013 Science Expo Ambassadors as guest bloggers over the next few weeks leading up to the 2013 Science Expo Conference. During November and December, they held regional Fall Info Nights from the Greater Toronto Area all the way to Windsor, Ontario to inspire interest in STEM, highlight upcoming STEM opportunities, showcase local involvement in extracurricular STEM and promote the 2013 Science Expo Conference. Ambassadors will be sharing their stories on their ambassador experience, their Fall Info Night, STEM topics and life-changing STEM opportunities that they have participated in. 

Team North York
Jin Yin Chen, Tony Wu, Lucy Lin, Kaitlyn Yong, Mary Zhang, Bill Jia, Magdalene Au, Joanna Yuan

The journey of being an ambassador, through the eyes of four individuals. (more…)