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For the love of science: Student volunteers take it on the road

HANDS-ON SCIENCE: Children were invited to construct mechanical hands at a recent event in the Medical Sciences Building, one of several events attended and hosted by U of T students in the Let's Talk Science Partnership Program. (Photo by Jennifer Duncan.)

The keen young scientists in The Let’s Talk Science Partnership Program (LTSPP) at the University of Toronto Scarborough have had a busy few months bringing their love of science to others.

Graduate students in the program’s campus chapter have volunteered at several recent events. We will also be participating in some large-scale events over the next couple of months.

About 10 program volunteers, in conjunction with some other members from the Let’s Talk Science national office, worked together at an event that drew an estimated 300 people to the university’s St. George campus. We worked together with the Royal Canadian Institute for the Advancement of Science (RCI) to run an event in the Medical Sciences Building’s Macleod Auditorium on March 11.  The event was part of the RCI winter 2007 lecture series.

More than 180 children between the ages of six and 12 came with their parents to the RCI event. The featured activity was literally “hands-on” -- they had to construct a “mechanical hand” from everyday materials such as straws, strings, or cardboard. After the children constructed their “hands”, we tested the quality of their creations and asked them to perform tasks and challenges using the hand. If their hand failed a task, the kids were encouraged to alter or modify the design in order to complete the task. This day is a large annual science outreach event that takes place each year during the March break. Two years ago, Toronto Mayor David Miller even came out to participate in the day. This year’s event was a big success, with double the number of expected participants coming out for it.

We will also be busy this spring. On Sunday, April 22, we are scheduled to participate in the Cross Cultural Community Services Association’s After-School Earth Day Celebration at First Markham Place mall, located at 3255 Highway 7 east, on the south side between Warden and Woodbine. This program is sponsored by an RBC After-School Grant. To celebrate Earth Day, a few members of our LTSPP campus chapter from University of Toronto Scarborough will be on a stage in the mall to carry out a science demonstration as well as setting up a hands-on activity in which everyone can participate. Some of our popular hands-on activities in the past have been: Making Slime; Primary and Secondary Colours; Making Bubbles; Chromatography Art; and Chromatography Bandanas and Handkerchiefs.

In early May, a group of chapter volunteers, including University of Toronto Scarborough graduate students Balinda Phe, Catherine Febria, Sarah MacKay, and myself, Edward Eng) will be bringing our outreach program to the northern part of Ontario, to the town of Dryden. We will be traveling there for a three-day event between May 2 and 4. There we will carry out science activities at various schools in the area, hoping to reach as many students as possible in the process.  Visits to rural towns and cities give the students there some exposure to everyday science and imparts to them the knowledge, hands-on experience and skills in science fields that are “hot” these days.

Also in May, we will hosting a science competition involving students aged 10 to 13 years old from various schools across Toronto at an event known as the All Science Challenge. This event is scheduled for Tuesday, May 22 at the Medical and Related Sciences (MaRS) building, 101 College Street, just east of University Avenue, near Toronto General Hospital. The All-Science Challenge is a day-long event in the format of a game show similar to the previous “Reach for the Top,” with LTSPP volunteers from all three campuses of the University of Toronto helping out. The volunteers will be involved in tasks that include judging, reading out the questions to students, point tallying, and creating hands-on activities for the students such as making slime/gak or another popular activities. So far, more than 72 different school teams have signed up to participate in this competition. The event seems to be building up momentum as the date draws near.

Stay tuned, and remember, science rocks!

For more about the Let’s Talk Science Partnership Program, visit

Edward Eng is a PhD student specializing in cell biology at the University of Toronto Scarborough. He is the coordinator of the Let’s Talk Science Partnership Program at the Scarborough campus.

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