McGill takes part in 24 Hours of Science

McGill outreach teams "pulled out all the stops to provide exciting, engaging, and educational activities for the public of all ages"
Participants learn about the Gault Nature Reserve’s weather balloon during the 24 Hours of Science festivalAlex Tran Alex Tran

24 Hours of Science – Quebec’s biggest science and technology festival – took place May 5 and 6. McGill’s many science outreach programs joined in on the annual event again this year, with teams from Chemistry, Physics, Trottier Space Institute, Earth and Planetary Sciences, STEMM Diversity, Science Outreach, and Gault Nature Reserve contributing to the fun.

The outreach teams pulled out all the stops this year to provide exciting, engaging, and educational activities for the public of all ages. I saw happy faces everywhere I looked!” said Jacky Farrell, who heads up the Office of Science Outreach.

24 Hours of Science is a province-wide, two-day-long event filled with activities for schools and for the wider public to enjoy. Organized by Science pour tous, the event typically promotes over 400 activities throughout Quebec with the purpose of encouraging interaction between science researchers and the public.

Observing daily phenomena

Learning about volcanos

At McGill, over 800 visitors and participants of all ages enjoyed activities throughout Saturday, May 6, on the University’s downtown campus and beyond.

The first activity, “What is Neuroscience, Anyway?” organized by BrainReach, invited children aged 5-12 to take part in several hands-on activities focused on the brain. Participants discovered what brain cells look like under a microscope; and used human and animal brain models to see their different shapes and sizes.

“We had a cow brain they could touch, a board game about language in the brain, brain and human organ models to play with, a matching card game of brains to different animal species, and a colouring station where they could colour their neurons and build their own brain hat,” said Sofia Skromne Carrasco, Co-President of BrainReach Elementary.

Everyone, from children 4 and up to adults well past their university days, were invited to become chemists for a day with the Chemistry Outreach Group. Held outside the Otto Maass Chemistry Building, the event drew over 130 people with live demonstrations of experiments and interactive activities.

One major draw was the ice-cream making demonstration. Volunteers combined all the standard ice-cream ingredients, but expedited the freezing process by pouring in liquid nitrogen, hardening the ice cream almost instantaneously.

Turning outwards

At the Rutherford Physics Building, the Physics Matters, Trottier Space Institute, and Earth and Planetary Sciences outreach teams joined forces to host “From Planets to Particles: An Exploration Mini-Fair.” In activities and demos geared for children aged 6-12, curious attendees learned about everything from gravity, life on other planets, and building telescopes, to volcanoes, earth and space rocks, and superconductivity.

“It’s amazing how excited the children were to get to actually hold rocks. In the morning I was at the volcano activity and it was always surrounded by excited families,” said Fiona D’Arcy, PhD candidate Earth and Planetary Sciences. “Of course, the chondritic meteorite sample we had on display was also very popular – it being almost 4 billion years old.”

Over 700 hundred people took part in activities held inside and outside the Rutherford building. These activities included observing solar flares through a solar telescope, and a demonstration of a cloud chamber, which makes it possible to see radiation.

“Parents we spoke to throughout the day thanked us  and told us how much their kids were enjoying the activities,” said Carolina Cruz-Vinaccia, Program Administrator at the Trottier Space Institute.

An occasion to explore biodiversity

Making ice cream with Chemistry Outreach

In front of the Redpath Museum, STEMM Diversity@McGill set up interactive tables with displays of scientific research in ecology and biodiversity, complete with toads and tadpoles, fish, bats, and moths.

Four students led the demonstrations, including Jessica Ford, co-founder of STEMM Diversity@McGill. “When you think of scientists, you might think of someone wearing a white coat in a lab, but actually, we’re often working in the field with animals and nature,” said Ford, who presented the frog life cycle to curious participants.

The Office of Science Outreach facilitated an interactive workshop outdoors on the life cycle of trees. Through games discussion and periods of observation, the group explored how trees grow and change, and how they are important to animals. Activities included identifying seeds from different species and touching bear and porcupine jaws. The participants were even given a bingo sheet to locate the different parts of trees at various stages of their lives.

Off the Island of Montreal, but no stranger to the McGill community, the Gault Nature Reserve held its own activities during the weekend. School groups were welcomed on Friday, and the wider public on Saturday, to discover McGill’s living laboratory and meet its in-the-field scientists. Curious visitors witnessed the launching of a weather balloon, visited on-site labs, and participated in scientific workshops and kiosks on the surrounding biodiversity. Some 200 people attended the activities over two days.

None of the workshops, demonstrations, and other activities organized by McGill teams during 24 Hours of Science would have been possible if not for the efforts of dozens of volunteers, whose involvement ensured that everything ran smoothly. 24 Hours of Science is set to return for its eighteenth edition next spring.