students' writing

It’s rewarding to see students’ work evolve from draft-to-draft. Below are final drafts written by my students during our undergraduate and graduate science communication courses.

How You Can Save Your Child from Some Cancers

By Alexandre Grant

That’s right, there is a vaccine against cancer, and it’s been on the market since 2006. This vaccine protects against the most dangerous types of human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted virus often referred to as HPV.

The HPV virus is the most common sexually transmitted disease affecting Canadians; nearly 75% of them will contract an HPV infection at some point in their lives, most of which will resolve themselves without trouble. The real danger lies in the handful of HPV strains which have the potential to cause a variety of cancers. Amongst them, cervical cancer headlines the lineup of HPV-related malignancies, which also includes the likes of vaginal, anal, penile, and oral cancers.

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Climate change is more than science – our education system needs to reflect that

To help the next generation produce solutions in response to the looming climate crisis, we need to develop a cross-curricular approach to teaching the science and impacts of human-driven climate change.

By Laura Lyon

On Friday, March 15th, students around the world inspired by 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg skipped class to march for climate action. In Quebec, students ranging from high schoolers to PhD candidates joined to bring awareness to the looming climate crisis, and our lack of action as a society. Students are already expressing anxiety about the future; will the jobs we are preparing for today still exist when the time comes to fill them? Will there be farmland left, water to drink, or cities to live in? Climate change is a very real threat, and we as a society must do a better job in providing a strong scientific yet interdisciplinary education for our future leaders today so they can tackle this issue tomorrow.

With the release of the IPCC Special Report and the Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment last fall, climate change has become an increasingly important outside of academic circles. Natural disasters and extreme weather have also added kindle to the fire. Just last year, record-breaking temperatures caused a massive heat wave across North America that killed 34 people in Montreal alone[. It will only get worse.

Students need a foundation in critical thinking and the scientific method which can only be achieved through a cross-curricular approach. Science teachers often say they want to incorporate more climate science in their lesson plans, but they don’t have the time or resources. Then why do we put the burden on science teachers alone? Language arts courses can be an opportunity to discuss fact versus opinion, analyzing sources, and studying environmental literature. Humanities courses can explore the history of scientific thought, and the impact of climates on societies. Mathematics courses can teach statistics in the context of scientific data, and more advanced calculus courses can even explore the equations governing global climate models. By spreading the content across subjects and supplementing current lessons with climate change applications, we make it more manageable for teachers to incorporate the material into an already jam-packed curricula.

The importance of integrating climate science in lessons goes beyond lesson plans. People are beginning to suffer from ecoanxiety, a condition brought on by worrying about the future and watching the seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold. The American Psychological Association has even released a study on the impacts of changing climate on mental health. Ways to combat ecoanxiety include supporting solutions to reduce and prevent further climate change, as well as supporting community resilience. Preparing the next generation with a cross-curricular climate education can help them develop concrete solutions to fight climate change, address conditions such as ecoanxiety, and create a strong community support system as well.

In Canada, many high school programs offer Earth science related electives or give students options to specialize in the subject, but we need to go beyond electives and create provincial guidelines for mandatory school curricula. Programs such as the Ontario’s voluntary EcoSchool certification available for all K-12 schools are on the right track, but we can’t let something as important as teaching climate change be an opt-in program for schools.

This cannot be achieved overnight and will require fundamental changes to how curriculum is structured. There will be a large upfront cost in doing so, but fixing damage to the environment, human health, and society that unmitigated climate change will cause costs significantly more. We need to prepare the next generation to solve one of the greatest threats humanity will face in the next century – it’s the least we can do.

Laura Lyon (@lyonlaur) is a MSc student in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at McGill University. She studies the effects of climate change on groundwater resources in the Yukon Territory. Her research is part of Global Water Futures, a Canada-wide project that aims to deliver solutions to water threats in an era of global change. She is currently a volunteer with the non-profit Science & Policy Exchange which aims to foster student voices in evidence-based decision making. She has previously worked as a research assistant at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and as a science policy intern at the American Geophysical Union.

Performance Enhancing…Headphones?

Like steroids, these brain stimulating headphones are a potentially dangerous performance enhancer, but unlike steroids, there are no regulations against them in professional sports. As more and more technologies like this start coming on to market we need to set strict guidelines for their use.

By Therese Koch

port headphones are usually designed to be to be small, light, waterproof, and wireless so that they don’t get in the way while working out. Given this design standard, a pair of bulky over-ear headphones for athletes might not seem like the best investment. But that didn’t stop Halo Neuroscience from raising $13 million in funding from high profile investment firms including TPG and Lux Capital in January 2018.

As you may have guessed by now, these are no ordinary headphones. On top of playing music, they deliver a weak electric current to the brain, which the company claims promotes brain plasticity. This purportedly allows the user to learn motor skills more quickly. The electric current is directed at the motor cortex, which lies directly under electrified pads lining the inside of the headset and coordinates movements of the body. A 20-minute session makes neurons in this region more likely to fire, which could help athletes learn skills more efficiently, as well as increase their endurance and strength. However, scientific evidence behind this idea is mixed at best, and Halo is relying on many small, privately funded studies to support their claim, along with anecdotes from paid ‘brand ambassadors’.

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More to post soon!