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U OF T GRAD, THE MIND BEHIND SCIENCE LITERACY WEEK
By Suzanne Forcese
Science Literacy Week (September 16-22) is a nationwide celebration highlighting the excellence and diversity of science outreach events, resources and organizations. The week is designed to highlight the importance of everyday science and to give libraries; schools and universities; science centres and museums; zoos and aquariums a nationwide chance to collaborate and discover ways to communicate science to the public.
In this year’s theme – Oceans: Depths To Discover --the excellence and diversity of Canadian science are being show cased in panel talks, book displays, sustainability tips, virtual reality workshops and more.
WaterToday had the pleasure of speaking with the Founder of Science Literacy Week, Jesse Hildebrand. Hildebrand who graduated (2014) from the University of Toronto with a Baccalaureate in Ecology told WT, “I walked straight out of the exam room after my final exam, over to the library and requested that there be more literature to get people engaged in science. That was the beginning of my Science Literacy Week program.”
“I am a life-long nerd.” Hildebrand’s enthusiasm about science is contagious. “I’ve always wanted to share that enthusiasm and shout from the rooftops just how amazing science can be to everyone. Science Literacy Week is my way of doing that.”
By prompting libraries to bring their science collections out into the limelight Hildebrand’s goal was to spark inspiration in a newly attracted readership. Hildebrand gives a big shout-out to librarians who put so much energy into the process. “They are really the drivers of people getting high on science. A simple
science-themed book display encourages people to read something a little different and get hooked.”
“Every time you make a call with a cell phone, every time you are sick and take medicine, every time you use the internet, you are reaping the benefits of scientific inquiry. Aside from creating tools to improve our lives, scientific insights provide a tremendously inspiring way of viewing the world.”
It is Hildebrand’s exhilaration with all things scientific that has attracted over 300 partners including the major power of NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) and !ndigo, plus a Canada- wide reach in 200 cities for the Science Literacy Week. All this in 5 years. “Had I not left university to follow my passion, I would just be finishing up my PhD now.” Hildebrand is making a difference in his own style. “Young scientists are coming from a completely different culture than scientists of the past. They are yearning to share their work. I get to make this happen. My job is to know how to communicate what they want to share. It’s a golden age in Canada for young scientists now.”
Last year’s event was all about Space and included 850 events from public talks to explosive chemistry demos, stargazing sessions to nature hikes. “There was something of interest for everyone and every age.”
“This year, we’re partnering with ocean groups across Canada to bring together the largest ocean engagement and outreach event. Our nation has a special relationship with the sea, bordering three separate oceans – and so the Week will highlight ocean research, ocean health, challenges facing ocean communities and wildlife, and solutions we can all implement at home. Whether you attend a talk, take part in a shoreline cleanup, get out on the water, or just pick up a book we’re hoping to make the oceans come to life for Canadians everywhere.”
Part of what makes science and the inquiring mind come to life is unique ways of communicating. Hildebrand told WT of an event in Toronto last year called ‘Astronomers on Tap’. It was an informal gathering of astronomers in a bar giving talks. Eventually it became so popular, the bar staff had to turn away the crowds, even during a blizzard. “People want information and if you can offer it in a creative way you are giving those people a chance to become involved.”
Being involved, starting conversations, making changes – it all contributes to the solutions. For this year’s Oceans themes, Hildebrand has put together a learning centre on the Science Literacy Week website that includes blogs, podcasts, websites and posters to download. “Even if you can’t make an event there is still a lot to discover.” There is also a page with science books on every topic for all ages that can be ordered with a simple click on the book’s image.
“We just want to get people thinking about our oceans and all the water that ends up in the oceans.” There will be a panel from the University of Toronto’s Trash Team for an exciting panel talk “Tiny Plastics, Big Problems”. The idea is to create awareness of microplastics and what we can do to solve the problem. “Water is everywhere and if we can motivate people to clean up their water, whether it’s a river, a lake, an ocean or even a storm drain, then we have started a movement.”
What’s next for this young science communicator? “I would love to get involved with radio and TV to reach more people and spread the science excitement. Science is the way we come to know ourselves and our universe, and it has made us the most impactful species the world has ever known.”
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