Thursday, February 23, 2012

Website is up!

The podcast website is up and "running" - that's in quotes because it is not quite ready yet. But if you are interested, please go to:!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Apply for TEDxWaterloo 2012 - Check!

I just applied to TEDxWaterloo, a local affiliate of TED talks that presents speakers from a variety of different disciplines and backgrounds, revealing a new perspective, an adventure, an innovation, an inspiration! In the application, they asked about current involvement in the community and why I wanted to attend TEDx and I ended up writing about the podcast and my research, so I thought it would be fitting to repost that here. I often write about the difficulties and proceedings of creating a podcast and conducting the research that I sometimes forget to write about how much I enjoy it. I do enjoy it!
I'm a Knowledge Integration student which means that my life consists of jumping between disciplines, trying to come up with new ideas with a bunch of different people, and mostly studying hard, learning hard, and playing hard. I am also an advocate for northern research, being a northern researcher myself - I just got my first publication for my work on arctic ponds, wuhoo!!! Being an advocate means promoting research in the arctic and subarctic, so I am creating an audio podcast - Quirk and Quarks-esque or RadioLab-esque - to tell the world about the amazing research going on at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre near Churchill, Manitoba which showcases the noticeable effects of climate change on all sorts of organisms, from migratory birds to invertebrates! Only in northern research can we say, yea, look, climate change IS happening and it is truly harming northern-adapted organisms. The research I'm promoting is also unique because it is student run, either by grad students working on the edge of existing knowledge of the species or high school students getting their feet wet for the first time while working on long term monitoring projects. This is important stuff, and important to continue studying, which is why I'm a northern research advocate!

The rest of the time (when I'm not playing in water and sediment or interviewing and editing for the podcast) I am busy trying to get the most out of my undergraduate education - so much to learn, so little time! And the best part about learning is that it can occur in any context, it doesn't have to be from a textbook or a professor's lecture, it can be impromptu discussion in a coffee shop, an observation of changing seasons on a walk, or during the mingling of strangers after hearing an inspirational speech on the transformations of jazz or the power of light to create innovating technology at an event such as, dare I say it, TEDxWaterloo!! I live for these interactions with strangers from different backgrounds, whose biases colour their lens of the world and when placed in discussion with people with different biases allows everyone to see the whole spectrum of illumination. It is my fourth and final year at UWaterloo, after which I will enter into the "real world" and have to grow up and I want to be reminded that growing up doesn't mean conforming, it means continually learning, pushing the boundaries and fighting for what you believe in. I want to be inspired.
Apply to TEDxWaterloo for March 21 - deadline is Jan 27 so hurry up! - And I hope to see you there!

Do something nerdy - be a citizen scientist!

Darlene Cavalier - Science Cheerleader

 DISCOVER magazine posted an article about an active community in citizen science. The article features the creator, Darlene Cavalier, of a website,,  that promotes the involvement of normal people in real discovery, real science! The website has its origins as a database, but since expanding to become the citizen science hub where everyday non-scientists can join in the research of scientists!

The citizen science group that I was most aware of from Churchill was EarthWatch which does a lot of hands on research work all over the world to help scientists with more of the long term monitoring types of sciences, such as dendrochronology (remember this post from the summer?) and wetland monitoring. 

It's a great way to get involved with science, especially if you have a different background. It's also a great vacation idea or weekend out idea! So get out there, be a citizen scientist!

Thanks LeeAnn for passing this on!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Month 9 of Project

I am back in Southern Ontario, having left the beautiful landscape of Churchill on August 25 after the grand opening of the new building for the CNSC. I returned from a pleasant 20C to grueling 30C, watched the season change a second time, this time in the south, from a hot summer again to a golden brown fall to a warm, drippy winter. Over the past 4 months after being airlifted out of Manitoba, I have continued work on both of my projects, the microcosm experiment and the podcast. And I feel it is time to revive this blog and see the projects through to completion!

Microcosm Update: Many statistics have been calculated, many conclusions have been drawn, and many more questions emerged with much more to discuss around the topics of arctic pond ecosystems, the role of bacteria in the benthic mats during nutrient uptake, separate responses to nutrient additions for the water column community and the benthic community, the hindsight problems methods that I wish I could have changed (why didn't I take pH readings of the microcosms?), the question of accurate representation of lake conditions, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I wrote a preliminary report and presented to the Waterloo/Laurier group on the findings for an Independent Studies course which will be shaped, poked, and prodded, this term, into a publishable journal article. The data consists of the levels of the added nutrients in the water column, the chlorophyll a response from the phytoplankton and from the benthic community and an analysis of other pigments which needs to be completed this term using High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). Because the data will be published, I can't release it here, but I can discuss some of the broader questions (which I began this section with).

Stay tuned for further discussion!

Podcast Update: Avioyak (remember the buzzing in ears?), my obsession and creative outlet, is slowly coming to life along with the voices of the scientists I have not directly spoken with for several months! Two episodes, the one featuring Anne and Lisa's work with semi-palmated plovers and the one featuring Vanya's work with yellow warblers, are nearly complete. Remaining are the episodes on the Hudsonian godwit, zooplankton, and long term wetland monitoring. March 9, 2012 - Look out for the release!

In October and November, I ran a series of surveys asking CNSC visitors to listen to an episode, give me their overall impression of the style, and answer some factual questions to see if they learned anything. I never anticipated conducting a survey to be so difficult. Of course, the logistics, the hard deadlines, and the analysis are difficult, but that is not what I am referring to. Conducting a survey about the design of my own creative outlet, my brainchild, my art that contains my personal opinions about how science should be presented to the public and what I think is creative and fun, is truly difficult because of the critical feedback where listeners just didn't necessarily get it. The purpose of the survey was to learn about what the target audience might not "get" or what they think should be improved and, in design theory, this is exactly what designers are supposed to do. But in practice, I am so close to the project that it is very difficult not to take the comments personally even when I know the comments are constructive criticism.

Constructive criticism. Constructive: focus on the constructive because a lot of the comments really could help in the construction/conceptualization/development of the next episode, such as maintaining level sound quality, slowing down the narration, having distinct sections etc. Unfortunately, it is hard not to continually hear the criticism of my ideas and my art, the heartbreak of not being understood as I am sure so many artists and creatives have encountered. So to my future self and to others who are putting their creative selves on display, and especially for those that are honestly seeking the constructive criticism of others:

"Creativity takes courage."
- Henri Matisse
"Do what you feel in your heart to be right,
for you'll be criticized anyway."
-Eleanor Roosevelt

"To escape criticism - do nothing, say nothing, be nothing."
- Elbert Hubbard
By far, the biggest challenge was getting over the criticism which I willingly asked for! But tears were not shed in vain! The podcast and I am stronger for it and I am doing something, saying something and being something!

As the podcast develops this term, I will keep you updated and I am sure keep you informed of the latest rants of the media/science/Churchill obsessed producer. Until then... the latest wintery welcome by Kat.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Day 84: Joining the circus

This is CNSC.

With the birdfish logo up and the cranes cleared from the front
of the building, I think it is finally, just about, open!
The Grand Opening is tomorrow. The preparation for it can be described in one word: Circus

The science staff finished putting up the two tents  where
the speech for the opening ceremony will occur and where
people can stand for the ribbon cutting at the front doors
(see picture above! ^). But let me describe the wind here,
on the tundra, in Churchill. It is very windy. The tents came
with these tiny little pegs, like what is used for normal camping
tents, to hold down these massive things that take 6 people
to lift, and could probably have two cars parked underneath.
The winds here can gust up to 70 km/hr! And the way the poles
were whistling (remember the whistling tower down goose creek?)
it was definitely windy. LeeAnn and Cliff, the all around
maintenance guy, fixed up a ratcheting system to thick metal
rods to keep the tent down. The ratcheting webbing vibrates in
the wind like a truck is driving by. I feel like we should have
a camera fixed on these tents at all times to capture the
moment that they flip! 

Secondary proof of circus, the balloons! Lots of balloons!
All in the CNSC blue and white. Caleigh got so light headed
that she almost passed out after blowing up 50 balloons.
There were a few other incidents as well as the balloon prep
team got more and more light headed, but we have yet to pop
any, so I call it a success! Now... what to do with all these
 The third reason it will be a circus:

This is the Polar Bear Sighting board. The bear activity has
definitely increased in the last couple of days as fall approaches
and bear season comes closer. With so many people out here
in the next couple of days, I really, really hope that we won't
have any bears close to the centre! That would be a circus
nightmare as the animals are released.

Past bear records starting at the beginning of June, when
I first got up here. I have only seen a very small fraction of
all the bears out there!

More bears!

More bears!
 I also wanted to show the results of our intense cleaning for the past few days before the hundreds of feet dirty the place up!

This is the atrium! With the Weston Family Welcome Centre
near the windows in the back with the comfy chairs. The
Weston family really got this whole project, of getting a new
building started. They donated a bunch of money, I don't
really know how much but think at least 6 zeros before the
decimal point, but said that the money would only be given
if the centre could match it through other donations. It
really got the centre motivated to begin the process of finding
money to build a brand new amazing building.

Gift shop! Lots of Tees! The plant on the counter is named
Bogart. It is Caleigh's plant from Thompson (I think, it
arrived after she came back from York Factory through

I've spent a good bit of time here after a summer with only
three pairs of pants. It took me a while to remember to add
soap. Thank you Christina for the reminders! (And the
friendly mocking!)

The Aurora Dome, at least the bottom of it. The stairs lead
to the actual dome where you can watch the stairs and the
aurora borealis and polar bears from a warm, bug free safety.
Yes, that is a polar bear pelt, a mother bear that had to be
put down after being aggressive at the old open landfill.

The Seminar Room: I've spent a lot of mornings in this room
during the Walmart 5, the morning staff meeting.

The A/V lounge: Many evenings spent watching Ghost Busters,
Harry Potter, Sound of Music, Star Wars, Wedding Crashers,
etc., etc. If you look behind the poster above the TV, there is
a bit of a surprise!

The Cafeteria! Three times a day, I spend in this room. This is
the place responsible for the bit of extra weight I've managed to
put on this summer! You would think that field work would negate
the food, but the buffet is just too overpowering!

And the ones responsible for the food I eat! Rob and Sara (Rosalind
wasn't in the kitchen at the time, but she is also a culprit!).
Thank  you for the delicious dinners and especially the deserts!
And for putting up with my vegetarianism!

Ahaa, the classic mugs that bring character
to the new kitchen. Where the choice of
beverage is complimented with the character
choice of a mug that matches your mood for
the day. Personally, I like the big, multi-coloured
striped one. But I have dabbled with many a mug!
I thought it was only fair to follow up yesterday's post with a photo, so here it is, my dear mop!

I will miss you greatly! Even if you do
get around with the other staff and

Monday, August 22, 2011

Day 83: Dear Mop

Dear mop,

We got to know each other really well today, and it was a great time. I enjoyed every sweep. We first bonded in the janitor's room, when my hand and your handle met. Love at first sight. There literally was music, from my ipod. It happened to be a nerdy science song introducing This Week in Science, but it was a song never the less. We really got to know each other in the exercise room and had our first slow dance in the AV room. The floors shone by the time we were finished. And for those moments, I thank you greatly, my dear mop. 

And then I thought of you while I inventoried the delivery of food, moving boxes of juice and coffee, lettuce and mustard, yogurt and lentils. I thought of you while I interviewed Paige for the podcast, while I ate lunch, while Krista and I picked science posters to hang in the lab, while I packed my samples into coolers.

Do you remember the time when there was two loud bangs and I had to run to the window, knowing that the bangs were cracker shells to scare a bear away? Do you remember when I dragged you to the window so you could see as the bear strode across the tundra and into the forest, so we could work and watch at the same time? It was a wonderful moment.

Polar bear behind the building, there were two, but I only saw
one of them. Four cracker shells had to be fired before it left
the area.

I want to be honest with you, my dear mop, because you may have seen me with others throughout the day. There was the red broom and black dustpan before you, and there was the rag with window spray after you. But don't be jealous, you are my favorite cleaner. The others don't mean anything to me. It's just that you can't do everything, and I don't expect you to, so I have to work with others as well. And don't be jealous of the tent poles, it was really a group effort, not a one on one moment together. The tent poles weren't that interested in me anyways, they just wanted to stick to each other, none of the humans really developed a good relationship with any of them. But they are event tent poles, meant to hold up a huge plastic tarp to protect a couple dozen from the rain during the ribbon cutting ceremony, and being event tent poles, they are pretty stuck up and self-centered, thinking they are the most important. So don't be jealous. None of these other tasks  diminish the moments that we have had with each other, my dear mop. 

I do have to warn you that what we have can't last. You knew that our time was short together, a few rooms, a few hallways. I will see you again tomorrow, my dear, and we will glide across the floor once more before the stampede of people arrive for the grand opening. After that, I don't know where our future lies. You will be ok, though. You have the regulars, the daily cleaning staff, to play with you, clean you, comfort you. 

Just remember the moments we had together, as I will always remember them.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 82: Last sampling day

Today was the last lake sampling day, the summer is coming to an end. Figuratively for me, days counting down, but also literally as autumn begins to take over the tundra. The dryas leaves are starting to change to yellow. The berries are all ripe, mostly eaten. The weather is cooling back down to the single digits. The rain has come back with a cold wind but warm sun. Summer is ending and fall is coming to the tundra.

And yet this last sampling day is still full of surprises as Twin Lakes Road always seems to be. Remember the last few times down Twin Lakes Road? The caribou, the two fox, the Wolf!! Today's surprise was a little different...

Giant polar bear poop! With Carley's hands for perspective.
We found polar bear poop! It really is more exciting than it seems at first. Poop has so many treasures in it for a wildlife biologist - learn about diet, parasites, general health of the animal... So, that's what we looked at! First thing to notice is the size. This is a huge bear poop! Huge! Second thing to notice is that it is full of berries. And mostly undigested berries. I didn't know that polar bears eat berries. I always thought that polar bears were mostly carnivorous. I know that they are opportunistic eaters, from the eaten seats off of the quads and snow mobiles, in fact any oil product left outside is potential food. I thought that was a reflection of their typical diet of seals, so seal oil and blubber and fat are all things that are polar bear food. Other bears eat berries, I've seen black bears eat them. But I never thought that polar bears did. And it doesn't seem like the polar bears get much nutrients from eating them either. So why do they?

The second surprise of the last sampling was also polar bear related. The third last pond that we sample was on the coast. As we were approaching the lake, a mother bear was striding along the opposite coast with a cub in tow. They were far enough to finish our sampling, but close enough to not stick around. But the cub was adorable. It was tiny! Probably only a year old. It was amazing! A bit scary, but safely distant.