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Vol 32, No 2, Fall/Winter 2015


Vol 32, No 2, Fall/Winter 2015 The University of Alberta Faculty of Science is a research and teaching powerhouse dedicated to shaping the future by pushing the boundaries of knowledge in the classroom, laboratory, and field. Through exceptional teaching, learning, and research experiences, we competitively position our students, staff, and faculty for current and future success. Science Contours is a semi-annual publication dedicated to highlighting the collective achievements of the Faculty of Science community. It is distributed to alumni and friends of the Faculty.

Dean of Science Jonathan Schaeffer Editor Jennifer Pascoe Associate Editor Kristy Condon Design Lime Design Inc. Contributing Writers Kristy Condon Julie Naylor Jennifer Pascoe

Photography Richard Cairney Mita Dasog Vanessa Heins Ian Jackson Ross Lockwood Heather McDermid Jennifer Pascoe Richard Siemens Ian Stirling John Ulan University Archives

Send your comments to: The Editor, Science Contours Faculty of Science 6-197 CCIS, University of Alberta Edmonton, AB, Canada T6G 2E9 science.contours@ualberta.ca

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www.facebook.com/UAlbertaScience @UAlbertaScience @UAlbertaScience science.ualberta.ca

Luminescent liquids Professor Jonathan Veinot’s (chemistry) group examines how the size, shape, and surface of silicon nanocrystals affect the optical properties of these materials—for example, emitting different colours when they are exposed to ultraviolet light. Veinot recently received $1.65M from NSERC to create an international graduate school with German partners. The program is geared towards training young elite scientists and engineers in essential technical and out-of-discipline skills that will enable them to play key roles in revolutionizing and revitalizing the polymer-materials sector of the Canadian economy. For more information, visit: science.ualberta.ca/ATUMS

contents 7

Dean’s message


Science news

› Video game trainer built to save lives in the delivery room

› Memory permanence may be mediated by neural rehearsal

› Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum opens

› Listening in on a global conversation

10 Envisioning the future of science education

› Meet President David Turpin

14 The science of teaching

› That was then, this is now / The evolution of teaching in the classroom, lab, and field

› Anatomy of an instructor / Alumni share their favorite memories

› Reaching out / Teaching outside the classroom box

24 Redefining the classroom

› In our front yard / The campus as a classroom

› In our back yard / Taking our studies farther afield

› One small step for an alumnus / Building an out-of-this-world resume

34 Awards and accolades 35 Alumni perspectives “I failed to appreciate then that my professors were brilliant, and I was receiving a superb education.” —David Robertson (’63 BSc, ’66 MSc)



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Learning in motion Assistant Professor John Davis (physics) demonstrates the in-house Foucault pendulum in the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science to an undergraduate physics class in a simple experiment to illustrate Earth’s rotation. Undisturbed, this pendulum would swing clockwise and make a full rotation in 19.3 hours, indicating a full rotation of Earth at Edmonton’s latitude of 53.5 degrees.

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Transformative teaching

For me personally, this is a very special issue of Contours. All too often, the academic community tends to focus on the research side of the university, overlooking the reality that our mandate is research and teaching. As dean, I have tried to raise the profile of teaching in the Faculty of Science with two major decisions. First, we created a new position: associate dean for learning and innovation. Note that teaching is not in the title; the goal is learning, not merely teaching. Second, as part of the Faculty of Science strategic plan (science.ualberta. ca/stratplan), we have created the “big hairy audacious goal” (BHAG) of transforming 25 per cent of the undergraduate courses in science

Dean Jonathan Schaeffer (pictured far right) and Vice-Dean John Beamish (top left, ’75 BSc, ’77 MSc, ’82 PhD) show off their UAlberta pride on Green and Gold Day with science students and Ruby the Science Dog.

“Our goal is to take our already excellent science educational experience and make it superb.”

to take advantage of new learning methods, online learning, experiential learning, international experiences, and advanced technology. Our goal is to take our already excellent science educational experience and make it superb. This issue features several inter­ views, two of which I would like to high­ light. First, as one of his first official acts, the new president of the Universi­ ty of Alberta, scientist David Turpin, sat down with me for an engaging discus­ sion about teaching and learning. The conversation was wide ranging, and I hope the snippets included in this issue

give you an indication of his directions for the university. Second, Glen Loppnow, professor of chemistry and the first associate dean for learning and innovation, talks about his portfolio, his philosophy, and some of the exciting new projects under way. In addition, you will hear from several instructors and alumni reflect­ ing on their science education experi­ ences. Also, make note of some of the innovations we are spearheading in science education, such as the massive open online courses (MOOCs), Geosci­ ence Garden, international experiences (Southern African Field School), and the 3D printing laboratory (“the Shack”). Part of my job as dean is to brag about the great things we are doing. I hope this issue will convince you that I have lots to brag about when it comes to the Faculty of Science’s student experience!

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Professor Clayton Dickson in the D.E. Smith Reading Room in the Department of Psychology.

Memory permanence may be mediated by neural rehearsal

The permanence of memories has long thought to be mediated solely by the production of new proteins. However, new research has shown that the electrical activity of the brain may be a more primary factor in memory solidification. “It’s not just protein synthesis, long the dominant biological model, but also ‘offline’ memory rehearsal in the brain that leads to memory solidification,” says Clayton Dickson, psychology professor and one of the authors of the new study. For this study, Dickson worked with his undergraduate psychology honors students Jonathan Dubue (’15 BSc) and Ty MontourMcKinney (’14 BSc) as well as his departmental colleague Dallas Treit, all part of the Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute. “Learning is thought to occur ‘online’ by creating new or strengthened synaptic connections,” Dickson says. “However, we also know that the period directly following learning—when the brain is ‘offline’—is critical for solidifying that information.” Although agents that block protein synthesis can block future


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retrieval of information at this stage, Dickson has long been convinced that this might be caused by disruption of electrical activity. He equates this stage to a mental rehearsal of the preceding events, activity patterns that likely help set the memory in the subject’s brain. The stage when a brain is actively engaged in a new experience can be described as “online” activity. On the flip side of this neurological process, “offline” activity, or neural replay, is the process by which the brain rehearses what has been learned in order to strengthen the most important memories. What Dickson and his collaborators have shown is that protein synthesis inhibitors disrupt activity and can also disrupt “online” processing. “Memory permanence is a critical element of our day-to-day lives,” continues Dickson. “Understanding how our brains solidify memories is essential for treating memory disorders and, in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder, for potentially ridding oneself of bothersome memories. The more we understand about the process, the more likely we can find a way for people to improve their good memories and eliminate the bad.”

Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum officially opens Named after Canada’s leading paleontologist and University of Alberta professor, the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum officially opened in September 2015 in Wembley, Alberta. Thanks to a generous endowment established by the museum society, the Department of Biological Sciences is now recruiting for a new research leader to fill the Philip J. Currie Professorship in Paleontology. >>


Video game trainer built to save lives in the delivery room Psychology Professor Chris Westbury and Assistant Professor Lianne Lefsrud (Faculty of Engineering).

A psychology professor and an engineering professor meet at a party. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but during this particular chance encounter, the two professors discovered they have similar interests in language, persuasion, and the creation of meaning. Now Chris Westbury and Lianne Lefsrud are working together on their common research interests to guide the Alberta Chamber of Resources in better understanding public conversations by examining how the use and combination of certain words affects perception of meaning. (Think “oil sands” versus “tar sands” and the connotations associated with each term.) “Conversations about Alberta’s resource development have expanded beyond Alberta to Toronto, Washington, D.C., London, and worldwide,” says Lefsrud. “How can we understand what is activist rhetoric versus general public sentiment?”    To that end, Westbury and Lefsrud teamed up this summer with their colleague Geoff Hollis and two undergraduate psychology students— Janel Comeau (’15 BA) and Jeff Keith (’14 BSc)—to analyze nearly half-a-

>>“For more than 35 years, Philip Currie’s name has been synonymous with dinosaurs in Alberta and Canada,” says University of Alberta President David Turpin. “The impact of his research has been realized around the globe and has established Alberta as an internationally renowned dinosaur hub. Due in no

million unique newspaper articles from 2004 to present, using custom-written software. “We are analyzing how often words appear in the same article and how this changes across time,” says Westbury, adding that the group is focusing on 200 keywords derived in consultation with industry experts. “For example, how often when you see the word ‘oil’ do you also see the word ‘dirty?’” Westbury and Lefsrud see the possibility of their research being applied beyond resource development to other controversial issues—energy, climate change, and stem cell research, for example. They also hope to take their research one step further to predict forthcoming trends in public perception based on language being used. “We’ve defined a lot of measures that tell us about the characteristics of text, how things change across time and within different interest groups. We have ways of characterizing large blocks of text now,” says Westbury. “This is not simply automating media monitoring. It characterizes the conversations in a meaningful way to facilitate deeper understanding.”

Six University of Alberta undergraduate students have developed a video game to enhance neonatal training and help save lives in the critical moments after birth. “We were approached by neonatal physicians in the U of A’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry who identified a need for better neonatal resuscitation training to help prevent infant deaths,” says computing science professor Vadim Bulitko. “Student teams from our fall and winter terms of the Computers and Games class submitted proposals for the chance to work on the game.” RETAIN (REsuscitation TrAIning for Neonatal residents) is being designed to provide a customized experience that adapts to the skills of the learner, drawing on the U of A’s international leadership in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and gaming. The final team who worked on the game consisted of six undergraduate students from the departments of art and design, biological sciences, computing science, and psychology. The students filled the roles of three programmers, one writer, one musician, and one artist. “Neona­tal resuscitation training has worldwide relevance, but training can’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” says Bulitko. “As far as we know, there isn’t a game or training system like this in the world.” Worldwide, approximately one million newborn infants die annually due to asphyxia at birth. Additionally, one in 10 are born prematurely, and 20 per cent of those will require help breathing from trained personnel. Innovative training to improve birth asphyxia outcomes has come from a surprising place: a video game, created by six U of A undergraduate students, that may give health care providers an edge in neonatal resuscitation.

small part to the work Dr. Currie has completed during his tenure, the University of Alberta is recognized as one of the premier places in the world to study vertebrate paleontology. The establishment of the Philip J. Currie Professorship in Paleontology will ensure that we remain at the forefront of this discipline.”

Facing page, bottom: A view of the exhibit hall at the newly opened Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in Wembley, Alberta. S C I E N C E . U A L B E R TA . C A





EARLIER THIS FALL, we met with Dean Jonathan Schaeffer and President David Turpin (whose academic home department is biological sciences) to learn about how their backgrounds as science students and professors inform their roles as administrators and what they envision for the future of science education at the University of Alberta.

Dean Jonathan Schaeffer and President David Turpin tour the Geoscience Garden.

THE EXCITEMENT OF DISCOVERY DT ⁄ My favourite experience as an undergrad was working with a profes­ sor on my honors project. He was an expert in red tides. He wanted me to see whether we could elucidate a life cycle in these toxic red tide organisms. I was in the lab looking at these cultures one day, and I see this big globby structure. And the professor said, “Oh my god, they’re fusing gametes. Wow! Let’s start taking pictures.” I sat there saying, “Oh my goodness, I just discovered something.” It was my first paper, “Life Cycle of Toxic Dinoflagellates.” It’s one of my top


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ten most cited papers, and that experi­ ence—that two minutes of a professor literally jumping up and down at the result of one of my experiments as an undergrad—that was pretty exciting. JS / My favourite learning experience was almost accidental. I was taking a third-year course in artificial intel­ ligence, and the professor presented us with some optimization algorithms to solve. His description was really complex. When I started thinking about how to solve this little puzzle rather

than the complex problem, all the com­ plexity went away, and the algorithm at the heart was actually very simple and elegant. The solution turned out, from my point of view, to be beautiful. Although it was a simple puzzle, it was incredibly motivating to me. I thought, if there’s so much beauty in solving puzzles, what about solving games? This led me a year later to apply to grad school when I had not ever in­ tended to go. Who knew that would lead to a master’s and then a PhD and now an academic position at the University of Alberta? DT ⁄ That’s the great thing about research. There’s an elegance to it. It’s asking the right question in the right way. When it works, there’s a beauty that is indescribable.


THE REWARDS OF TEACHING JS / One of the most gratifying experi­ ences I’ve had as a professor is bump­ ing into students many years later who remember you and say, “I really enjoyed your course.” That first time was memo­ rable, because it really brought home the fact that teaching and learning—which, of course, is our real reason for being here—is so fundamentally important. If you motivate the students, and you make the material fun and exciting, you may never know how many people in that room you’re actually exciting and motivating. DT ⁄ That’s very true, having people reach out to you 20 or 30 years later and say, “I still remember that first biology course.” They take a course that they maybe don’t have a burning interest in, and all of a sudden you ignite a passion that starts their career.

We’re very fortunate to have these jobs where we get to interact with some of the brightest young people in the world and motivate them to go on to do absolutely remarkable things that they never imagined. “YOU MAY NEVER KNOW HOW MANY PEOPLE IN THAT ROOM YOU’RE ACTUALLY EXCITING AND MOTIVATING.” JS / Let’s look at it from a big picture point of view. We hit the front page of many media outlets with our fantastic research, but it’s pretty rare that teach­ ing and learning hit the front page, although they’re equally important to our mandate. How do you foresee the teaching and learning agenda over your term as president?

DT ⁄ Well I think when I talked about those “aha” moments as an under­ grad—the recognition that you can make discoveries—that’s what I hope we are able to do for all our students, regardless of what discipline they’re in. If I can help facilitate an environment where students have the opportunity to have those same sort of “aha” moments that I had as an undergrad, to help them realize that they can push back the fron­ tiers of knowledge and be transformed by their own power of discovery, then I think that we’ve all done our job. >>

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DT ⁄ I think one of things that every educator has to do is instill in their students that passion for hard work. It doesn’t matter whether you’re us­ ing a blended learning model, reading a book, using your iPhone—actual engagement with complex issues is hard work. It takes a lot of energy and commitment. It doesn’t matter what discipline; it’s uplifting when you can actually sit down over a period of hours or days or weeks to look at a complex problem—whether it’s in philosophy or physics—and master it. The fulfill­ ment that comes from that sets you up for success. Life is like that. Every time you turn around, there’s a new problem that requires solving. And if you learn early how to solve your problems, you’re going to be set for life. JS / Everything you said about students equally applies on the in­ structional side. It’s amazing how one instructor can have an impact on an enormous number of students. DT ⁄ I remember back both to my student days and the time when I was most active in teaching. I found the diversity of teaching and learning mod­ els extraordinarily helpful for me both as a teacher and as a student. I think that’s one of the things that we have to recognize. There’s no one method that works for everybody. I think one of the good things that happened over the last decade is the recognition that blended learning opportunities really are important to student success. The way I learned is probably very differ­


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ent than the way you learned, and it’s different from the way somebody else learned. And so, by providing a suite of vehicles or learning opportunities within a particular course, we’re allow­ ing students to learn in different ways that fit more closely with the way in which they learn.

ON THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE JS / I see our students changing dra­ matically, certainly in last decade. It’s been profound. They’ve grown up with Google and social media. They don’t use Encyclopaedia Britannica; they’ll go online and use Wikipedia. They carry powerful computers around in their pockets; it’s amazing what you can do with your cell phone. These students

are different than they were 10 years ago. Where I see a disconnect is many faculty members have difficulty taking new technology and bringing it into the classroom. They understand the potential for the technology but lack the resources and the ability to, say, develop an interactive learning program or software that could do something transformative for their course. DT ⁄ That’s one of the challenges we have. Things are changing so quickly. How do we provide constant oppor­ tunities for professional development not only for our students but also our faculty and staff? How do we ensure that we’re keeping current with what’s happening out there? It is a huge chal­ lenge given the rate of change, but as senior leaders, that’s a responsibility we both share. JS / You mentioned the rate of change. It’s accelerating. It’s very difficult to keep pace these days, and standing still is a recipe for disaster. I find this to be one of most difficult challenges facing universi­ ties today. We need to be nimble.


DT ⁄ One of the big disadvantages of large institutions is that they take a while to change course, but it’s also one of the big advantages. It prevents us from making catastrophic errors. If you think of any organization in Western civilization, there are only about 80 organizations that have been in continuous unbroken existence since the reformation of the early 1500s. More than 70 of them are colleges and universities. In other words, every gov­ ernment, almost every monarchy, every business that’s been established in the last 500 years is gone, and those that have stayed around are universities and colleges. Why is that? It’s because we are about something fundamental. We’re about teaching and learning. And many of those fundamen­ tal building blocks haven’t changed. We will be here 100 years from now. We will be here 100 years after that, because what we do is absolutely fundamental to contemporary society. The ways in which we do it are going to change. Getting back to your point about being nimble, we need to be nimble in scale. We need to be able to support the leaders who are trying these new technologies, but at the same time not

expect everybody to immediately jump in, because some are going to fail. And if everybody jumped in to a particular technology and it failed, where would that leave us as an institution? You want to support early innova­ tors, and you want to support the early adopters but you also want to respect those people who are saying “I’m not so sure about this—I’m going to hold back a little bit before I see whether it’s a success.” And that is one of the great strengths of a university, supporting that continuum. JS / Many people view the institution as being risk averse and therefore not nimble. It’s very difficult in this context to make a decision to be seen as leading edge, because by definition leading edge can be equated with risk. I would say that many people think that university progress has been limited because of an attitude of risk aversion. DT ⁄ I think that’s always the balance. What are the potential returns? What are the expected costs? What are the big risks if you move in that direction? We talked about blended learning models and not putting all your eggs in one bas­ ket, so to speak. The same is true with big institutions. There’s absolutely no way any of us should support a funda­ mental change in mission or direction that could potentially jeopardize the institution if we’re wrong. The one thing I think we’ve learned over the last 500 years of the Western university is the future is a very difficult thing to predict. There are failures all over the place. The

great thing about the university is that it is a large stable institution that supports innovation in clusters within the orga­ nization. That’s what we do. We provide those environments where that innova­ tion can occur. Where if it succeeds, let’s celebrate it and spread it, and if it fails, well that’s great, because if we didn’t try it, we wouldn’t have known. JS / Thinking about your term as president, where might we end up on the teaching and learning side five years from now? DT ⁄ I want to allow every student to have the experience of discovery in an undergraduate program so that they can experience the joy and the passion of making a discovery. JS / The “aha” moment. DT ⁄ Yes, the “aha” moment. If you experience that once, the kick and joy you get will propel you to a lifetime of discovery and achievement. JS / I absolutely agree, if we can achieve that as an institution… DT ⁄ …we’ll have succeeded.

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That was then. This is now. The evolution of teaching in the Faculty of Science

…in the classroom iClicker. MOOC. Moodle. Ask today’s

Laboratory in chemistry department, 1950.


students what these are, and they won’t hesitate to answer. The face of teaching has evolved from chalkboards to smartboards, from pen and paper to laptops and mobile phones. David Turpin, University of Alberta President, understands these changes firsthand through his expe­ riences as a student, a professor, and an administrator. “If we go back over the last 40 or 50 years, there have been a whole series of different technologies that have come in, and they have all played a role in disrupting what we were doing and challenging us to put it back together in a somewhat different way,” he says.

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Renowned polar bear researcher and biological sciences professor Andrew Derocher (’87 MSc, ’91 PhD) agrees, recalling how the field of ecology has evolved over the past 20 years since his days as a U of A gradu­ ate student. “The demands on students today are rather different than they were in my era,” he says. “I made maps for my thesis using India ink and then transfer­ ring lettering by hand. To calculate simple metrics on polar bears, I had to write my own programs to run on the university mainframe and do calculations by hand calculator. Technology has allowed us to conduct statistical analyses with relative ease; however, the skills needed to do these analyses require a lot of time and dedication, not to mention specialized courses.” Across the board, from algebra to zoology, the changes in the teaching and learning environment prompted Dean Jonathan Schaeffer to create a new

There’s an app for that The Faculty of Science launched its first electronic textbook this fall. Available as an app through iTunes and Google Play, the textbook is based on the content from the U of A’s extremely successful Dino 101 MOOC, an introduction to dinosaurs. “Textbooks are an expensive but important part of education,” says Jonathan Schaeffer, dean of the Faculty of Science. “We are experimenting with ways to ensure students both on campus and around the world have affordable access to the tools they need to be successful in higher education and lifelong learning. In the future, we hope to roll out electronic textbooks with some of our large introductorylevel courses.” The first lesson is free, and the entire course is available for $9.99 (USD) on Google Play or through the App Store.

“More and more, we are recognizing that our students are a very diverse group, with a variety of backgrounds, motivations, and goals.”

portfolio in the Faculty of Science devoted to learning and innovation. Tasked to inspire, reward, and sup­ port innovative teaching and learning experiences in the Faculty, the inaugu­ ral incumbent is chemistry professor and 3M National Teaching Fellow Glen Loppnow. “More and more, we are recognizing that our stu­ dents are a very diverse group, with a variety of back­ grounds, motivations, and goals,” comments Loppnow. “Our faculty are the same way. I see the role of the learn­ ing and innovation portfolio as providing multiple path­ ways of success in support of the teaching and learning mission of the Faculty of Science.” Opportunities for students include access to new programs, courses, certificates, and other educational resources that creatively align desired learning outcomes with student interests and needs. The new initiatives are geared to providing opportunities for interdisciplinary,

Science undergraduate students Jamie Hudson and Fahim Rahman (Vice President, Academic, of the UAlberta Students’ Union) test drive the new Dino 101 app.

“It’s all part of a continuum where the tools we have at our disposal are changing.” active, and discovery learning, along with other proven educational strategies to promote better learning. “I think the future of institutions of higher education will hinge more and more on their ability to offer a stim­ ulating learning environment that shifts with the chang­ ing needs and goals of our students,” says Loppnow. “Our students today are innovating in ways and conducting studies that nobody could have imaged 20 years ago,” says Derocher, himself an award-winning instructor recently honored with the Faculty of Science Graduate Mentoring Award. Adds Loppnow, “One of the big ways in which our students are changing is how they interact with knowl­ edge. In these days of rapid, free access to knowledge and facts, students want and expect to interact with their education in a way that leads to more effective learning on their part.” “Blended learning” and “flipped classrooms,” for ex­ ample, are gaining momentum at the U of A. Both com­ bine technology with face-to-face teaching—typically providing some content in videos that students watch at their convenience, leaving class time for group activities and problem solving in a face-to-face environment. The Faculty of Science is a leader in the blended learning initiative at the U of A. To date, the pilots have received positive reviews by both students and faculty. Preliminary research results from the MATH 114 blended pilot suggest that student grades improved almost half a letter grade compared to students in a traditional lecture section. Bolstered by the success of this pilot, the Faculty of Science plans to continue exploring options for blend­ ed courses to enhance the undergraduate curriculum. Another major player in the ever-evolving education game is MOOCs (massive open online courses), which have been embraced by students across the university as another way to fit classes into their academic/life balance. Students engage with a course on their own schedule, review material as often as needed, and get formative feedback rapidly and frequently, all of which, students say, lead to success in this type of course.   “It’s all part of a continuum where the tools we have at our disposal are changing,” comments Turpin. “The challenge for us as educators is to build a toolkit

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MOOCs uab.ca/moocs

The Faculty of Science currently offers three MOOCs: DINO 101 Led by world-renowned paleontologist Philip Currie, Dino 101 is the world’s first paleobiology MOOC and Canada’s first MOOC available for credit to U of A students or free to the world. To date, more than 70,000 students worldwide have taken the course.

“As a leading edge research and teaching university, I believe we need to be at forefront of this movement so that we can learn, publish results, and be seen as a leader.”

Software Product Management In answer to the growing demand for professional development opportunities in the software industry, the U of A has partnered with Coursera, the world’s largest open online education provider, to offer a specialization in software product management.

Laboratory in medical building, 1948

“Specializations are the next level of MOOCs. With this new software product management specialization, we are sharing our subject matter expertise with thousands of students across the globe looking to further their careers.” —Jonathan Schaeffer

Understanding Video Games (with Faculty of Arts) This course provides a comprehensive overview of analytical theory pertaining to video game media. Created with the help of Edmonton’s internationally recognized video game developer BioWare Corp, students learn how to study and understand the literacy of video games.

Coming in 2016 The Changing Arctic: Climate The scientific evidence is irrefutable: climate change is happening, and it is changing the face of the Arctic region in innumerable ways. In collaboration with the University of Tromsø (Norway) and the University of the Arctic (international), the University of Alberta will offer this first of four MOOCs on the Arctic, this one on climate change and the Arctic.

Origins: Paleontology Mini-MOOCs These three paleontology MOOCs will focus on theropods and the origin of birds, ancient marine reptiles, and early vertebrates. Each of these MOOCs will explore evolutionary changes from a paleontological perspective. Beginning in 2016, learners can explore the anatomy, diversity, and evolution of theropod dinosaurs, examine the origin of vertebrates, and discover the evolutionary changes that occur when ancient air-breathing animals returned to the water.


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With the 2011 opening of the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, the Faculty of Science is home to state-of-the-art modern lab facilities.

so students can choose which of these tools are best going to serve their learning needs.” Schaeffer adds, “as a leadingedge research and teaching university, I believe we need to be at forefront of this movement so that we can learn, publish results, and be seen as a leader. There may be something two or three years down the road that replaces MOOCs, and again, we want to be at the forefront.” Along with all the changes, there are still plenty of classic, “tried-and-true” teaching methods that are not in any danger of being abandoned. Professor Anthony Lau has been teaching math for more than 45 years at the U of A. Recognized for his teaching accom­ plishments with such accolades as the 3M National Teaching Fellowship, the U of A’s Rutherford Award for Undergraduate Teaching, and the University Cup, Lau is well known for teaching simply by writing out problems on the board so students can see how he thinks and solves problems. He destroys his notes after every term. “Starting from scratch each year forces me to be creative,” he says. Despite what technology he is or isn’t using, Lau’s teaching philosophy has not changed. “I want to ensure that students find the learning experience enjoyable through sharing of experiences, en­ couragements, and challenges.”

“Modern instrumentation makes access and hands-on experience with such instruments much easier for undergraduate students than in the ‘old days,’ another welcome development.”

…in the lab Professor Emeritus Joe Takats has been involved in designing and instructing undergraduate chemistry labs since arriving at the U of A in 1971. “With Chemistry East under construction (it opened in 1972), all chem labs were in the ‘old building,’” he says. ”At that time, the prof was responsible for both the lecture and running the lab, and I was involved in the development of our environmental chemistry and a third-year molecular spectroscopy course.” The labs themselves were the typical configuration for the time—lab benches with four wood-framed hoods at the end of the lab. “The inorganic lab then, and now, focuses on helping students develop and improve their synthetic skills and their technique to characterize the compounds they make,” comments Takats. “The labs usually consisted of making some inorganic com­ pound and characterizing it by making some measure­ ments and/or obtaining some spectra.” Takats points out that this lab arrangement lasted for several years, but with curriculum revisions, the establishment of the four-year general science program, the attendant increase in student population and the number of students per lab section, changes had to be made. “The recent move of the labs into modern facili­ ties with larger number of efficient hoods was very welcome, both for safety and for performing experi­ ments that require inert atmosphere/double vacuum manifold technique,” he says. “Modern technology

In its inaugural offering in 2015, the Southern African Field School brought students to Swaziland, South Africa, and Mozambique.

has made it easier to demonstrate to students experimental techniques and to show them how various apparatus are assembled with real photos. Also, modern instrumentation makes access and hands-on experience with such instruments much easier for undergradu­ ate students than in the ‘old days,’ another welcome development. ” New opportunities are redefining the traditional laboratory, blending labs with open-air classrooms, a tradition since the Faculty’s inception that is now being pushed even further with offerings like the Southern African Field School. The U of A’s first science-based, semester-long field school had its inaugural cohort in 2015. “It’s a very different way of educating,” says Jocelyn Hall, Associate Chair (Undergraduate) in the Department of Biological Sciences, who herself taught in the field school this spring. “A lot of the educating we do at the university is lab exercises that are benefi­ cial to students for their learning, but the Southern African Field School has an extra benefit, where the students’ actual lab experience is having a direct im­ pact in the area where they’re staying.” The field school takes place in three separate countries: Swaziland, South Africa, and Mozambique. “When they study conservation biology, they visit different reserves to compare and contrast the differ­ ent ways that people are managing land. When they are doing their labs, in Swaziland for example, they gather data that will be used to help conserve the reserve they stay on,” says Hall. “The first cohort of students commented on this as an amazing life-changing experience.” Today, the relative ease of international travel and com­ munication makes it possible for undergraduate students to do this kind of involved fieldwork abroad. In an increasingly inter­ connected and globalized science community, these opportunities serve not only to give students rich first-hand fieldwork experi­ ences, but to also introduce them to the global science network much earlier in their careers than has been historically possible. Continued page 33 >>

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We asked. You answered. Who were the people, and what were the moments that shaped your University of Alberta student experience? Here follows some of the overwhelmingly heartwarming feedback we received:

n “I was in arts but took two chemistry courses—first year inorganic chemistry and senior organic chemistry. I loved them both, and the discipline required to pass the courses helped me a lot in getting my arts degree and law degree. Many years later, I still enjoy reading scientific articles. Unfortunately, the benefits of taking courses outside of a degree focus is too often overlooked.” —DENNIS SHULER (’67 BA, ’71 LLB)

n “G.A. Chambers was among the best of the lecturers from the math department. He would introduce a concept like a ‘ring,’ ask the question ‘What does this animal here look like?’ and then proceed to lucidly describe it. His office was always open to students for questions, especially near exam time when we could even call him at home! The night before the final exam of my first-year linear algebra course, I called Chambers about a problem I was having difficulty solving. He helped me solve it over the phone. The exact same problem was on the final exam the next day.” —LUCA VANZELLA (’81 BSC, ’88 MSC)

n “His enthusiasm for his fields (paleontology, stratigraphy), his highly entertaining but very informative lectures, and, believe it or not, the Saturday morning fossil identification tests, convinced me that I should pursue a career in paleontology. Which I did!” —ALFRED LENZ


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n “Dr. David Pilgrim was an incredible instructor, and I am so happy to have had him as a teacher and mentor at the start of my academic career. Dr. Pilgrim has such enthusiasm and passion for science you would always leave meetings feeling excited and like you were on the right path in life. It was obvious that he worked very hard during lectures and labs to not only teach the foundational knowledge but also impart a level of wonder and excitement about developmental biology and genetics.” —MICHELLE HOFFMANN (’12 BSC, ’14 MSC)

n “You may not realize or appreciate it at the time, but looking back, the faculty and students around you are truly among the world’s best. Dr. Jocelyn Hall went above and beyond her day-to-day duties as a professor to provide support and advice to her students. She helped inspire me to complete my degree and finish strong.” —PATRICK CHAGOURY (‘07 BSC)

n “The lecture was being conducted in V-Wing as usual, but in the middle of the class on one particular day, every light in the room suddenly went out, and we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. The good professor—of diminutive stature and extraordinary wit—spoke through the pitch blackness, instructing us all to put down our books and pencils. After the clunking stopped, he told everyone to raise both hands in the air and to continuously rotate them at the wrist. Puzzled but compliant, we did so for a few seconds…and the power and lights came back on! Our professor triumphantly proclaimed… ‘Hence the proverb: Many hands make light work.’ (followed by disbelief and significant groaning, interspersed with guffaws and applause.)” —KEN HRYCIW (’68 BSC)

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n “Dr. Randy Currah left the biggest and longest lasting impact on me. His passion for mycology and his ability to see potential in students was very inspiring. Having Randy as a professor allowed me to fall in love with the kingdom of fungi and excel as a student. I strive to be as passionate in my career as he was in his.” —BREANNE GORDULIC (’07 BSC)

n “I was a somewhat unfocused undergrad until I took Dr. Don Heth’s motivation course and saw the value of doing research in psychology. Dr. Heth saw something in me that I didn’t even know was there, and I am convinced that his letter of recommendation is the reason that I was accepted to several graduate programs. (My GPA certainly would not have opened those doors!) I went from a BSc at the

n “Dr. Roger Moore taught an introduction to modern physics course in a way that was fascinating and engaging. I would find myself raving about his in-class demonstrations for the rest of the day. Many of my friends from outside of the physics department would sit in on a lecture or two because Dr. Moore was so artful in relating the topics and demonstrating them practically. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, and those mind-blowing lessons are a model of science education that I hope to live up to in my career.” —MATTEO HEE (’09 BSC, ’11 BED)

U of A to my MS and PhD at the University of Florida, and I am about to enter my 29th year as a faculty member at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Thanks to the little but crucial push that Dr. Heth gave me, and thanks to my graduate school mentor, I have published more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and I have just finished a term as President of the Society for Psychophysiological Research, an international scientific society with members in 40 countries. It all started in Dr. Heth’s undergrad motivation class.” —TERRY BLUMENTHAL (’79 BSC)

n “The overall culture of the Faculty of Science was one that encouraged its students to be successful. Peter Antonelli in the Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences had high expectations but never doubted how high we could reach.” —STEPHEN KRIZAN (’94 BSC)

n “Dr. Walter Harris and Dr. Ronald Burwash were exceptional teachers and mentors. Their enthusiasm for their discipline was infectious. I still think about them and miss their presence as true educators.” —LEITH CAMPBELL (’69 BSC, ’78 MED)


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Inquiry n “Dr. Walter Harris was a young professor in my undergraduate days in Honors Chemistry. One day, watching an experiment involving extraction of essential oils by refluxing solvent, small beads of reflux were skating


n “My knowledge base in entomology was enriched by all the courses. Dr. George Ball’s course on phylogeny and taxonomy was particularly didactic in furthering my understanding and appreciation for the biological and historical relationship among invertebrate organisms. The course I took with Dr. Ball continues to have a productive and meaningful influence on me.” —STEPHEN BRAIMAH (’85 PHD)

around in the pot. The skating beads were not pertinent to the experiment in hand. He asked me if I had any idea why the beads were there. I had no idea, but a great light went on: enquire whenever you detect the unusual or unexpected. Therein lies a secret of discovery. (I subsequently went on to a PhD and 37 years doing R&D for The Dow Chemical Company).” —D.C. MACWILLIAMS (’50 BSC) 

n “The most memorable prof of my science experience was Dr. Peter Kershaw. I was a biology student, but I took a few of his earth science classes. I loved the snow studies trip to Pincher Creek and the field school in Kananaskis (even though I was always getting sunburnt!).” —JANET ZAZUBEK (’04 BSC)

n “One day in class (second year inorganic chemistry), Professor Jonathan Veinot mentioned to us that we should understand the concepts versus memorizing them. This advice changed my studying style and actually made it easier to study. I still remember this advice nearly 10 years later.”


n “Rich Palmer is an amazing instructor, as his undergrad and graduate students will agree. He went out of his way to get grad students involved in the lighter side of academia. He organized ‘cool papers’ every week after work hours in the Faculty Club. During this time, grad students and faculty are asked to present in five-10 minutes a cool, interesting, or funny publication. If you convince everyone that it’s a ‘cool paper,’ beer is paid for by the attending faculty. Luckily, grad students had a success rate of 100%. Topics ranged from ‘the projection angle of penguin excrement’ to ‘swarm intelligence of ants.’ It’s these type of ‘bonus’ experiences at the U of A that make you motivated and excited about academia, and it takes good people to make that happen.”


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JUST 87 SQUARE KILOMETRES, the Caribbean island of St. Maarten is the small­ est sea island in the world split between two nations. And just like his home island, shared between France and the Netherlands, Jeffrey Newton (‘13 PhD) found himself split between the desire to pursue the life of an aca­ demic and a feeling of responsibility to share his passion with the world. After earning a master’s degree in acarology—the study of mites—at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands, Newton was reluctant to jump straight into a PhD


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and a career in academia. “As a student, I noticed that many professors, who were very smart and had amazing things to share, had a hard time sharing these things optimally,” he explains. “I was so worried that if I continued on this road, the same thing would happen to me.” So, instead of plunging straight into his PhD, Newton moved back to St. Maarten to sample some other career options. “I was a locksmith, a database manager; I worked in a medical uni­ versity where I applied bar codes in a morgue; I tried growing my own crops; I did some carpentry,” he recalls. “Part of it was to remind myself what everyone

else is doing to live and survive. This is how the real world works, and academia is extremely privileged.” Coming from four generations of Caribbean heritage, Newton never thought of his island as anything special. However, after studies abroad, he began to see his home through new eyes and founded a local junior ranger’s

club to share his perspective with local children. “I had been hiking around and fishing [on St. Maarten] all my life, pick­ ing up hermit crabs, grabbing iguanas from trees, catching fish in our open cisterns, catching bugs—so this is what I started doing with kids,” he explains. “I loved doing this, but the island grew too small for me; it was time to go.” He learned about an opportunity to study soil mites at the University of Alberta and immediately applied. “There are literally only a few people in the world who are experts in that area,” he explains. One of them is biological sciences professor Heather Proctor, who became Newton’s PhD supervisor. “It still surprises me how few Edmonto­ nians or even U of A undergrads under­ stand what kind of world-class talent the U of A houses.” Newton found inspiration in Proctor’s ability to clearly communicate her research. “Heather showed me that when you’re a researcher, you can still

“What would be better than just being able to genuinely share what you love in a way that contributes so positively to society?”

be an excellent educator. I was so impressed by her passion for teaching that I decided I wanted to be a full-time science educator.” He began volunteering with an on-campus science outreach group, Let’s Talk Science, which soon led to a senior coor­ dinator position. Through this process, he was able to build a network to recruit and train volunteer presenters while growing the program and handling the overall administration. “That’s when I realized that there were a lot of people who think that science outreach is legitimate—this is a real thing,” he says. “At the time, I couldn’t believe that you could do something like this for an hon­ est living. What would be better than just being able to genuinely share what you love in a way that contributes so positively to society?” From there, the opportunities blos­ somed. Newton is now the programs director for the Alberta Science Network, where he recruits and trains volunteers (scientists, engineers, and topic experts) to give free classroom presentations for elementary and secondary schools. He also provides workshops and free science resource kits for teachers to help them deliver science in a more engaging way. The teacher workshops are particu­ larly popular, with the goal of providing teachers with simple tools they can use to lead hands-on activities in their own classes to enrich the existing curriculum rather than replace it. “Our workshops are kind of like a Swiss army knife: here are a number of options. Pick which one works for you. We want to make sure they are an efficient use of the teacher’s time and make it as useful as we can.”

For Newton, the positive feedback he gets from students is a reward in itself. “The word ‘science’ has the potential for all these negative connota­ tions—that you have to be extreme, that you have to be a genius—but none of them are true,” he explains. “What we’re really hoping is that students see one of our presenters and get a deeper understanding of how science and engineering shape the entire world around us, and that it’s done by very normal, but enthusiastic people,” he says. Newton’s location may have changed— he’s now based full-time in Edmonton— but his outlook from his time touring kids around the island of St. Maarten has remained consistent. There may not be iguanas in the trees of Edmonton, but there is no shortage of things to observe and learn about. “There’s a whole Serengeti of creatures out there killing each other, foraging, fighting for their lives, right now under this grass—it’s like the struggle for life and death. “Evolution is taking place,” he explains. “And because I know these things, I can communicate these things to other people and get them excited. And that’s why people get into research in the first place— to get excited, to learn new things.”

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FRONT YARD Heather Proctor wades in the North Saskatchewan River, just a few minutes’ walk from campus, to examine freshwater invertebrates.


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PERCHED ATOP AN EXPANSIVE EMERALD GEM, the University of Alberta’s North Campus is nestled between foliage in varying shades of green and gold, dotted with buildings and bustling with intellectual energy. From the highest tree tops to the depths of the Earth’s core, the wealth of resources in our proverbial front yard has served to educate and inspire Faculty of Science students for decades.

“Being able to go into the woods and be in a relatively undisturbed area just by walking a few steps outside of the Biological Sciences Building helped to reinforce my love of nature,” remembers Heather Proctor (’86 BSc). “Just knowing that hillside of wild plants and animals was right beside me was a calming influence as I studied for the many exams I took in that building.” Now a professor in biological sciences, Proctor regularly takes her own students down into the river valley to study freshwater inver­ tebrates in the North Saskatchewan River. These field experiences have helped launch many of her students into successful careers. “I remember our first lab session from Zoology 351, when our class went down to the North Saskatchewan River to sample invertebrates,” reflects one such stu­ dent, Cheryl Tebby (’15 BSc). “The weather was beautiful, and along with my classmates, we scooped river silt and stones along the shallow river edge in hopes of catching something interesting. I walked further upstream from where my classmates were collecting, and through the clear moving water, I spotted a large grey crayfish crawl­ ing along the gravel. Carefully, I managed to scoop it up, and with the critter safely in my net, I sloshed back along the river to proudly show it to Dr. Proctor. “Collecting from the river for our first lab tied the organisms to their environment and subsequently expanded our education and mindset,” says Tebby. “We weren’t just staring at specimens in jars. We were discovering bizarre animals in their aquatic habitats. And we became aware that those aquatic habitats were right beside us. The proximity of the river and our

Above: Aerial view of the University of Alberta North Campus. Left: Proctor, Tebby, and Hinchliffe examine a crayfish from the North Saskatchewan River.

exploration of its inhabitants during class time put our education into context, which is something that isolated teaching specimens can’t do.” Robert Hinchliffe (’06 BSc), Tebby’s col­ league in aquatic invertebrate taxonomy at the Royal Alberta Museum, shares his own fond memories of his undergraduate river valley experiences. “You know it’s going to be a fun course when in the first week you take a short walk with your professor from campus down into the river valley, everyone in the class decked out in hip waders and toting nets, pans, and other collecting paraphernalia, to scoop aquatic bugs from the North Saskatchewan River,” says Hinchliffe. “After a few brief instructions from Dr. Proctor, everyone spread out and the ‘scavenger hunt’ commenced.” Zoology 351 (Freshwater Invertebrate Diversity) is an intensive four-month course built partly on collect­ ing, identifying, and documenting as many of Alberta’s aquatic invertebrates as possible. Following a few more lessons as a group, students are then encouraged to continue collecting on their own from the many streams and wetlands within the city or beyond. “Zoology 351 is just one of many U of A courses that take advantage of the city’s many parks and natu­ ral areas to enhance the learning process with a more

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ver the ts disco Studen f plants on yo diversit ny 205, in Bota campus mentals of da the Fun iology. Plant B

hands-on approach,” continues Hinchliffe. “Overlook­ ing one of the longest municipal parkland corridors in Canada, the University of Alberta is uniquely poised to provide learning experiences that extend well beyond the walls of the classroom.” Karen Romanyk (’82 BSc) is a lab coordinator in the Department of Biological Sciences. “It is absolutely invaluable to have such a huge natural resource in the Edmonton river valley so close to campus,” she says. “One of the world’s largest urban green spaces is just a stone’s throw away from us.” Romanyk, like so many others who have explored UAlberta’s natural assets, fondly remembers her days as a student and lab TA in the river valley. Now as a lab coordinator, she works to incorporate other natural features on campus to make labs more interactive, for example, the “plant walk” included

in Botany 205 (Fundamentals of Plant Biology). “Our campus has many beautiful plants, including exotic species you do not naturally see on the prairies, such as Western Hemlock, Cork Tree, and Maiden Hair (Gingko), the living fossil. “We take students on guided tours at the beginning of the school year to observe these attractive plants with their interesting struc­ Karen Romanyk leads undergraduate tures and adaptations,” says Romanyk. “Then students on a wetlands tour. in the winter, when students look at features of these plants in more detail in the lab, they can make the connection to these plants in a more natural setting, even though they may be covered in snow by that time,” she notes, emphasizing these experiences have brought her a greater appreciation for everything the U of A campus has to offer. “I look at campus differently now.” When it comes to incorporating campus features into experiential learning, shift in perspective becomes a common theme. “You learn to make observations and interpretations of the world by being outdoors,” says geology professor John Waldron (earth and atmospheric sciences), a driving force behind the Geoscience Garden, a rock garden along the northern edge of campus on Saskatchewan Drive. Waldron explains there is a big leap for second-year geology students to get them to move from thinking two-dimensionally to understanding three-dimensional concepts. “The light bulb goes on when you get students outside the classroom.” For example, there are roughly 80 simulated rock outcrops in the Geoscience Garden that represent more than one billion years of Earth’s history, each designed to give students clues about what’s below the sur­ face. Waldron and his team worked with the existing geography to make for a more realistic setting to simulate some of the rock formations of Western Canada. “Geology is a field science,” says Waldron. “The Geosci­ ence Garden fills in the gaps and prepares our students for field school.” Waldron and his students examine one of the specimens in the Geoscience Garden on Saskatchewan Drive.


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VENTURING BEYOND OUR FRONT YARD AT THE U OF A CAMPUS, the Faculty of Science offers one of the most comprehensive and extensive undergraduate field school experiences in Canada. U of A science students have unparalleled access to the most coveted field locations in the world, thanks not only to the university’s physical proximity to unique learning sites, but also to the international partnerships fostered all over the globe through researcher and faculty connections.

Geology student Pete St. Onge enjoys a quiet moment during field school in the Northwest Territories.

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BACK YARD For many students, getting out in the field is one of the highlights of their undergraduate careers and helps set the tone for their future endeavors. “I’ve wanted to be a geologist since I was nine years old,” says recent graduate Pete St. Onge (’15 BSc). “Field work is a requisite of the program, but they’re all the most important courses. The field schools take aspects from every course up to that point and really actually tie everything together.” St. Onge describes the “aha” moment he experienced in the field: “Everything you’ve studied actually does make sense when you put it together. It’s not just a bunch of random classes. You’re exposed to everything in field school.”

“A geologist is not a geologist until they have field experience. Field school gives students the real world experiences they need to become true geologists.” St. Onge was one of a group of students invited to a unique fourth-year field school in the Northwest Ter­ ritories with earth and atmospheric sciences pro­fessor Tom Chacko, where they were sequestered in one of the most remote parts of the country without contact with civilization for nine days. “As soon as Tom mentioned he was doing this field school, I jumped on board immedi­ ately,” says St. Onge. “You learn a lot of things in field school that you literally just can’t learn in the labs.” “A geologist is not a geologist until they have field experience,” says Chacko. “Field school gives students the real world experiences they need to become true geologists.” Following the NWT field experience, St. Onge had the opportunity to work on another project with Chacko. “You have a better connection with the work you’re doing after being out in the field.” St. Onge praises field schools not only as a way to master the discipline but also as a direct route to self-introspec­


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tion and exploration. “It’s worth learning about your­ self one way or another. It’s important for everybody to be able to learn whether they are good at doing projects from the ground up,” he says. In his role as Distinguished Lecturer for the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists in 2012, Lee Hunt (’90 BSc) visited roughly 22 institutions offering geosciences programs across the country, providing him with an excellent comparative oppor­ tunity. “The University of Alberta geophysical field school was one of the truly outstanding things that I saw,” he says. “Over the years, our country has seen an unfortunate contraction of field schools, particu­ larly geophysical field schools. Seeing how rare a full geophysical field school is in our country brought the strengths of the University of Alberta program into superlative perspective. In fact, I have thought many times since then that the U of A’s geophysical field school is of national importance.” The experience also gave Hunt the opportunity to reflect on his own field school days at the U of A. “I have often looked back and felt truly fortunate that I was able to attend the University of Alberta under­ graduate program in geophysics.

Above: UAlberta students have unparalleled access to rich study environments, such as this geology field school in the Northwest Territories.

Below: Gregory Funston shares his expertise during recent field school at the Danek bonebed in Edmonton. The majority of fossils found at the site come from a mass death assemblage of the large duck-billed dinosaur Edmontosaurus.

Right: Gregory Funston and his paleontology lab mates prospect in Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park.

“You can’t teach field work in a classroom. You have to be out there. That’s definitely where the U of A shines.” “My appreciation for the program at the U of A has grown throughout my career, and it has supported my work in manifold ways,” says Hunt. “Field school brings home a real epiphany about the errors and tolerances of the seismic experiment, and further, it is an invaluable experiential reminder that the data with which we work in the office is the result of an experi­ ment and must be viewed critically.” Paleontology PhD student Gregory Funston (’13 BSc) shares his undergraduate field school experience. “You can’t teach field work in a class­ room. You have to be out there. That’s definitely where the U of A shines. It’s a huge advantage and is one of the

things that separates the U of A from other undergrad paleontology programs,” he explains. Every student has to do field work, and that is a huge draw for a lot of students. It’s an incredible experience.” For Funston, as for so many others, field work sets the lab work, foundational knowledge, and research into context. “Unless you were there to help collect the specimen, you don’t really know why it was collected. It gives a better sense of what is actually going on.” After finishing his undergraduate work, Funston began his graduate studies under his mentor Philip Currie and has now twice returned to the undergraduate field schools at an Edmonton bone­ bed to provide some mentoring of his own. “I remember how much I learned not just from Phil, but also the other grad students,” he says. “They knew all the tricks of how to identify fossils and dig them out of the ground. It is satisfying and fulfilling that I now get to share my experience with the other students who are just starting. Even­ tually, they will be my lab mates and colleagues as we work our way up the ladder. There’s a community sense in paleontology and real opportunity to help others. You’re invested in their success because it will help you be successful later on. “You get to know people a lot better in the field, and profs get to know you in a different sense,” says Funston. And vice versa. “It’s a way to interact and pick their brain about what has made them successful. It’s one of the first times you learn that your professors are people too. People with a passion for what they do.”

Field schools are a vital part of the University of Alberta Faculty of Science experience. For information on how you can support these transformational experiences, visit ualberta.ca/givetoscience.

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One sm all

In 2008, Ross Lockwood submitted the most important job application of his life. One of more than 5300 sent into the Canadian Space Agency’s Astronaut Recruitment Campaign, his application was ultimately unsuccessful— but Lockwood hardly considers that a failure.

In the seven years since that first application, he’s been pounding the pavement—hard—to build up a space-worthy resume. “I was a new graduate student when I applied; but of course, no professional degree means no flying to space,” he explains. “So, get a professional degree—that goes on the list.” Originally from Kelowna, Lockwood first came to Edmonton to pursue his bachelor’s degree. “I just kind of grew into the University of Alberta,” he reflects. “I got involved a lot in student leadership roles in my first couple of years here, and it made it hard to leave.” Like many undergrads in science, he initially intended to pursue a professional degree in medicine and thus chose a biology minor to suit. “Of course, I took my first physics course and got hooked and just chose physics course after physics course. I got blind­ sided with physics, and by the end of my degree, I realized I hadn’t taken any biology courses.” He ended up with an honors degree in physics, and, after a few summers conducting undergraduate research, Lockwood was inspired to continue at the graduate level, earning a PhD in condensed matter physics. Check. A few of the remaining things on Lockwood’s get-to-space list: become a SCUBA divemaster (check); obtain a private pilot’s license (in progress); live for four months in a simulated Mars habitat (check); un­ dergo high-altitude suborbital flight training (check). Lockwood emphasizes that every step along the way toward his goals has been critical. “If you’re lost in a forest and all you have is a GPS, that’s not enough for you to survive,” he explains. “Having an end goal only serves you as much as being able to work towards


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it. It’s not enough just to say ‘I want to be an astronaut.’ You’ve got to identify what skills you need to develop in order to get there and slowly build them up over time.” Each of these identified opportunities pro­ vides essential training for space-flight. SCUBA, for example, is a highly technical sport which requires careful management of equipment in a high-risk environment. “People tend to down­ play the risks, but you’re using a compressed gas in a compressed environment, so you have to worry about things like oxygen toxicity—where you can’t dive too deep or the “What we’re seeing oxygen in your tank becomes now is the slow ramp poisonous to your body,” Lockwood explains. Diving up to being a real can also prepare people for space-faring civiliza­ extreme claustrophobia and simulates zero gravity, since tion. Being a part of the sensation of floating in that is really cool.” water is similar to floating in space. Above ground, he gained further insight into the day-to-day reality of life in space through four months spent in an isolated habitat on the slope of an active volcano. Along with five crewmates, Lockwood participated in the HI-SEAS (Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) Mars simulation mission, a NASAfunded study on the psychological effects of long periods of isolation that would be experi­ enced during long-duration space missions— for example, on a trip to the red planet. “It was a moment in my life where I was simultaneously the most and the least isolated that I’ve ever been,” he reflects. “You’re complete­ ly cut off from ‘Earth,’ but you’re also in close proximity to your crewmates for the duration of the mission.” Other than online access to a volunteer-run “mission control,” from which they could re­ quest things like equipment manuals, the study participants were completely sequestered from Continued page 32 >>

step for an alumnus… With a winning combination of sky-high ambition and rigorous discipline, Ross Lockwood (’08 BSc, ’15 PhD) has already made a few giant leaps through his career journey. By Kristy Condon

“Young kids want to be everything, so when I grew up, I wanted to be a firefighter and a policeman and, of course, an astronaut.”

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“You always ask, what would the childhood you say about what you’re doing right now? And I think the childhood me would be pretty happy with where I am today.”

The HI-SEAS simulated Mars habitat pictured at night.

the world. Notes Lockwood, “There are real problems associated with human psychology. It’s much easier to send a robot to do these things, because you don’t have to worry about a robot feel­ ing lonely.” Before entering the habitat, the crew members were challenged with the task of packing everything they thought they would need for four months. One item at the top of Lockwood’s list was a 3D printer. During his time in the habi­ tat, he tested a variety of 3D-printed surgical instruments for their viability in space. “The idea is if you’re going to space, rather than taking 100 pounds of stain­ less steel surgical instruments, you take 10 pounds of 3D-printing mate­ rial and then just recycle it as different procedures require different tools,” he explains. Lockwood’s interest in 3D printing inspired him to establish the Science Hardware Hackerspace, or “the Shack,” in 2015 along with one of his mentors, physics professor Mark Freeman, at the University of Alberta. The facility is


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equipped with modern tools—including 3D printers—and is available for both study-related and personal use, with the goal of becoming an open-access lab for peer-mentoring based education. The Shack is currently operated out of the Department of Physics, and this summer already had 10 undergraduate student employees. “The main push [for the Shack] is that a lot of courseware is going digital, so I think students don’t have the op­ portunity to do as much hands-on work as they used to,” says Lockwood. “To truly modernize education, you need to be incorporating these tools and letting students explore them.” Keeping his eyes on the skies, Lockwood underwent suborbital flight training in Oc­ tober of this year through Proj­ ect PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital

Ross Lockwood looks on to one of the 3D printers in the Science Hardware Hackerspace, affectionately known as “the Shack.”

Science in the Upper Mesosphere), adding another NASA-funded project line to his resume for the CSA’s next recruitment round. Since they typically do recruitment about every 10 years, the next opportunity could arrive before the decade is out. Lockwood dreams big, and that’s what he’s always done. “Young kids want to be everything, so when I grew up, I wanted to be a firefighter and a policeman and, of course, an astronaut,” he says. “I grew up in the ideal time, where Bill Nye was on TV, and the international space station was being built, and there was so much excitement about the shut­ tle launches and everything. People say the space agency did a disservice because they went to the moon and then stopped. But I think that that was an anomaly, and what we’re seeing now is the slow ramp up to being a real space-faring civiliza­ tion. Being a part of that is really cool.” He adds, “And really, if that doesn’t work out, I’m really happy about the direction that the Shack is going. It looks like that is going to continue to be a suc­ cess, and now there is a groundswell of support. It sounds like we’re going to be surfing on a wave of excitement about this Shack idea. “You always ask, what would the childhood you say about what you’re do­ ing right now? And I think the childhood me would be pretty happy with where I am today.”

>> Continued from page 17

…in the field

Q Has technology changed the way you do research since your time as a grad student?

We asked two-time alumnus and professor Andrew Derocher (’87 MSc, ’91 PhD) to reflect on his time as a graduate student at the U of A and how that compares to the learning experience his own graduate students have today.

A Yes. I remember lugging our first “portable”

Q What is similar or different from your days as a graduate student?

A I spent months every year in the Arctic catching polar bears, but now, my students don’t have the same amount of time in the field. I put this down to a couple of factors: 1) We don’t have to spend as much time in the field to get the data we need. Technology allows us to get a lot more data from each bear or caribou or pere­ grine falcon we handle. Now we put on a GPS satellitelinked radio, and we get a position every four hours. The huge influx of data we get means that students today have to develop solid data management skills. 2) Students have to spend a lot more time learning the skills required to deal with analyzing their data. One of the major challenges for students today is that the massive influx of data means that they have much more complicated analyses to conduct. The level of analytical sophistication of today’s graduate students is a quantum leap from the 1980s. It would be incredibly challenging to spend as much time in the field as I did and still be able to conduct the high level analyses required to publish in the top journals. A simple example, when we first started describing polar bear habitats, we used a handful of “classes” to define sea ice types. Nowadays, students can view sea ice to a few metres resolution by satellite, but the data handling is daunting. Some fear that today’s students don’t spend enough time with their study organisms, but the days of field notebooks being adequate for cutting-edge science has faded. There’s a role for field research, but it depends on the question and the species.

Andrew Derocher in a bear pit in the 1980s.

computer into the field. It was about the size of 20 lap­ tops today. Nowadays, my students can bring hundreds of papers with them in the field and do analyses that we could only dream of while sitting in a small shack wait­ ing for weather to improve. In the “olden days,” I was taught to navigate by “dead reckoning,” which was based on speed, time, and direction. In essence, we’d head out onto the sea ice from land to find a polar bear and then we’d try to keep track of roughly where we were so we could figure out how to get back to our fuel cache before we ran out of gas. It was a huge challenge and meant big maps and rulers in the helicopter and lots of nervous calculations. We had to use the sun to reset the gyroscopic compass in the he­ licopter, so I had a table of longitudes and times that I could use to get the compass point the right direction. Nowadays, we use a GPS that has a nice map database built in and we can get a direction and time our fuel. I don’t teach students how to “dead reckon” anymore. In addition, our helicopters are followed by satellite so the company knows exactly where we are and the condition of the helicopter engine and performance. Technology has made our work a lot safer and a lot less stressful.

…in the future Whether it’s improving on long-held teaching trad­ tions or changing with the times, as UAlberta President David Turpin notes, it is important to study and evalu­ ate teaching methods along the way. “If we’re engaged in the use of new learning technologies, we should study how effective they are. Under what conditions do they work, under what conditions do they not, under what conditions can they stand alone, and under what conditions should they definitely be part of a blended learning continuum?”


2015 Alumni Recognition Awards CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR FACULTY OF SCIENCE ALUMNI AWARD RECIPIENT DAN RISKIN The University of Alberta Alumni Awards recognize the extraordinary impacts and celebrate the outstanding achievements of our alumni.

Canada’s oldest scholarly institute recognizes outstanding contributions to mathematical biology University of Alberta Faculty of Science professor Mark Lewis has been named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, our country’s oldest and most prestigious scholarly institute. A math biologist who joined the U of A in 2001 as Canada Research Chair in mathematical biology, Lewis is crossappointed to the departments of mathematical and statistical sciences and biological sciences.


Dan Riskin (’97 BSc) has been honoured with a Distinguished Alumni Award for his contributions to science research, education, and outreach programs, including his tenure as co-host on the Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet. The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes the truly outstanding accomplishments of living University of Alberta alumni who have earned national or international prominence as a result of their outstanding professional achievements and service to society. Congratulations, Dan!

A world leader in mathematical ecology, Lewis brings mathematical methods to bear on environmental questions including biological invasions, wildlife disease, animal movement patterns, and effects of climate change. Lewis has developed theories and new methods for understanding the impact of invasive species—such as zebra mussels or introduced weeds—specifically developing formulas to determine how fast they are spreading, where they will go next, and how to best control them. Lewis has also examined disease transfer between farmed and wild salmon and worked with fellow ecologist Andrew Derocher on modelling how climate change affects polar bear dynamics. “I have always put mathematics and the environment together, but since coming here, I’ve really started to focus on environmental issues that have an impact on Canada—I basically get to put all those mathematical tools to good use.”

FIVE FACULTY OF SCIENCE PROFESSORS NAMED TO CANADIAN GEOGRAPHIC’S LIST OF 100 GREATEST EXPLORERS An astounding 5% of Canada’s greatest explorers in 2015 are professors in UAlberta’s Faculty of Science, according to Canadian Geographic magazine and the Fellows of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Described by Can Geo as “questing to better our geographic and scientific knowledge of Canada, Earth, and


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everything beyond,” this illustrious list of explorers recognizes UAlberta scientists alongside names like astronaut Chris Hadfield and Hollywood director James Cameron.


John England (Professor Emeritus in Arctic geography,


Eva Koppelhus (Assistant Professor in paleobotany,


David Schindler (Professor Emeritus in water ecology,


Ian Stirling (Adjunct Professor in polar bear ecology,

Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) Biological Sciences)

The honourees from the Faculty of Science include: l

Philip Currie (Professor and Canada Research Chair in dinosaur paleobiology, Biological Sciences)

Biological Sciences) Biological Sciences)

Alumni Perspectives By: David Robertson (’63 BSc, ’66 MSc)

“I failed to appreciate then that my professors were brilliant, and I was receiving a superb education.”

d gues an h collea it w d p u u to R: B tches ight) ca mpus. (L (r a n c o n s o rt obe y Club David R e Facult man). rry Hea tes at th a m e s n s y , La a cla P e c li aard, A Baadsg


hen I first registered at the Univer­ sity of Alberta in 1959 in the physics pro­ gram, the physics building wasn’t even built. Our labs were in the basement of the arts building. There were only 7000 students in a few old buildings, and I was choked at the idea of having to go to the local “bush league” school because I couldn’t afford to go to an Ivy League College in the great U.S. of A. It had to be in the U.S.A., I thought, because I naively regarded Canada as second rate. Oh well! I soldiered on, labouring to pass the courses— which were difficult—and raise the $250 tuition for the year. I failed to appreciate then that my professors were brilliant, and I was receiving a superb education. I also failed to realize the university was dynamically expanding and bursting with energy and enthusiasm and wonderful new facilities, buildings, and—most important of all—attracting talented staff from all over the world. By third year I was “growing up” and transferred into geophysics, not because I had a great vision for my future, but because the geology library had comfortable chairs to study in, the coffee room had excellent freshly brewed coffee, and I liked the people there. The transfer meant that year would be entirely devoted to taking geology courses. What luck for me!

Many professors really inspired me. Not only were they wonderful teachers, but they were also fired up with their own research and deeply cared for their students. A recent experience 50 years later demonstrated this fact to me. I was visiting a younger friend working in a big corporate office in Australia. Noticing a book on his desk about seismic imaging by Ernie Kanasewich, I commented that Ernie was my instructor at U of A and participated in my MSc examination. My friend’s eyes lit up with respect (for me!) because I had been instructed by a great man—“His articles are our bible around here,” he said. I began to realize while taking courses from Ernie, George Cumming, Charlie Stelck, Bob Folins­ bee, Bud Baadsgaard, and others how fortunate I was—I was getting a world class education! They were trying to groom me and brought me to Washington D.C., Minneapolis, San Francisco, and other cities in the United States to go to conferences or give papers. And then I realized that our students and professors were just as smart (or smarter) than their counterparts in the U.S.A.. The U of A, although small, was world class!


Editor’s note: Do you have an interesting story to tell about your time studying science at the University of Alberta? Submit your ideas to science.contours@ualberta.ca.

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Plan to make an

extraordinary difference. Professor Emeritus Nat Rutter (’66 PhD) and his wife Marie believe that science gives back—and so do they.

In every aspect of my PhD education in geoscience, the Faculty of Science encouraged and supported me, leaving no doubt that I picked the right profession. Giving back to the U of A so that others can pursue their own passions is one way of saying thanks.

What will your legacy be?

To learn more about making a planned gift to the Faculty of Science, please email us at Give2Sci@ualberta.ca or call (780) 492-9983. Create your meaningful legacy for an extraordinary future.

We want to hear about the issues that matter to you. Complete our alumni survey by January 31, 2016: science.ualberta.ca/alumnisurvey

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Science Contours - Fall/Winter 15/16  

Science Contours - Fall/Winter 15/16