Fields come together: BASiC hosts yearly scientific conference

This Friday, McGill hosted their latest event in integrative research, the National Integrative Research Council (NiRC) at Thomson House. The point of the event, held annually since 2011, is to encourage McGill students to research beyond the limits of their field. Keynote speakers presented on a variety of subjects such as genome editing and Neanderthals.

The founding association of the event, McGill’s Bachelor of Arts and Sciences Integrative Council (BASiC), hopes to inspire students to innovate using multiple disciplines. One of the speakers—Nicole Buckley, a representative from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA)—argued that in order to achieve this, students and scientists would need to break down barriers between fields.

“The greatest things that’ll happen by going into space will be actually what we learn about ourselves [and] about human […] physiology,” Buckley said. “[The way to innovate will be by breaking] down the barrier between space research, and Earth research so it becomes [just] research. I’m hoping to see a point when people publish results, say, in Physical Science, [and] someone will say ‘Did you do that without gravity? What were your results?’”

This kind of approach seems to be inspiring students. 

“It was totally fascinating,” Wolf Hibbard, a McGill Chemical Engineering student said. “I think space is something that for everyone—no matter what you’re studying—is a cool thing. So it was really cool to hear from […] the top of the top scientists: From the [CSA].” 

Buckley then spoke about the issue of developing propulsion systems for improved space travel. Scientists have considered using things like artificial gravity to make systems more efficient and environmentally friendly. But solving issues like this one requires many levels of science, and many different disciplines.

“I think this is why this conference was really important,” Buckley said. “Because it brought together so many broad disciplines, and I think that you need them all. Human exploration [is] going to take it all to make it work.” 

The tone of the event was adapted for science and non-science students, explained Bimo Chan, who recently-graduated from McGill’s Department of Physics.

“I think it was definitely accessible for someone who was not in science,” Chan stated. “There were technical bits and pieces, but overall, it was [an] inspiring talk.”

The issue, particularly for BASiC, is to come up with an event that will inspire people from multiple disciplines and that is only possible if there is not an excessive amount of jargon and advanced concepts. In fact, with talks like Buckley’s on space travel—using language everyone can understand—misconceptions about science might start to disappear.

“You watch television, and you see all these really great science fiction shows where people are going to space and they’re walking around, and you don’t realize that it takes a […] toll on the human body,” Buckley explained. “I think people don’t even realize how hard it is [to walk in space].”

In particular, Buckley joked that she remembers watching episodes of Star Trek and seeing people walk around with ease. As the NIRC event wrapped up at Thomson House, talk of Star Trek and space propulsion seemed to contrast starkly with the old-fashioned decor and the debonair service that the building is known for. But the jarring juxtaposition made sense. One of the NiRC’s main goals is to blend different styles in learning and to transcend the boundaries of arts and science.

Awards were given to celebrate the unconventional methods of McGill students like Celeste Welch, Esther Vinarov, Farhad Udwadia, and Tobias Atkin, who presented their own research alongside more established academics. The work of Maya Stein, Nina Fainman-Adelman and Elizabeth Church was also featured. Stein of McGill University won the award in the best student poster cattegory for her work on the different pain-reactions between men and women, and Jennifer Peruniak of Dalhousie University won the award for the best student oral presentation on the social determinants of childhood obesity.

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