McGill Takes Part in 24 Hours of Science

Published: 16 May 2023

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 the Chemistry, Physics, Trottier Space Institute, Earth and Planetary Sciences, STEMM Diversity, Science Outreach, and Gault Nature Reserve teams 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

At McGill, over 800 visitors and participants of all ages enjoyed several activities throughout Saturday, May 6, on the university’s downtown campus and beyond. The first activity held in the morning, “What is Neuroscience, Anyway?” organized by BrainReach, invited children aged 5-12 to engage with several hands-on activities surrounding the brain. Participants discovered what brain cells look like under a microscope, used human and animal brain models to visualize their different shapes and sizes, and more.

“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 outside the Otto Maass Chemistry Building to become chemists for a day thanks to the Chemistry Outreach Group. The event drew over 130 members of the public 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 on the border of 4 billion years old!”

Over 700 hundred people took part in the dozen or so activities held inside and outside the Rutherford building throughout the day, including a solar telescope to observe solar flares, and a demonstration of a cloud chamber, which makes it possible to visualize radiation.

“The parents that we spoke to throughout the day enthusiastically thanked us for putting on the event 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

In front of the Redpath Museum, STEMM Diversity@McGill set up interactive tables with displays of scientific research, showcasing equipment from 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 ears.

The Office of Science Outreach, for their part, facilitated an interactive workshop outdoors for families with children aged 8-10 on the life cycle of trees on the main McGill campus. The group explored how trees grow, change, and are important to animals through games, discussion, and observation periods, including 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. Around 200 people attended the activities over two days.

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

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