Science honours students exhibit their research


- Kim Westad

Anyone needing proof that students love learning through research had only to attend the second annual Faculty of Science Honours Fest March 1, where students vied for thousands of dollars in prize money. The Bob Wright Centre lobby buzzed with action as the 48 competitors—almost triple the number from last year—presented their research to judges, fellow students and community members.

Competitors stood by poster boards that outlined their research, explaining the details to those who crowded around. The aim was to create a “conference-style” setting, much like students will be in when pitching their ideas to employers, funding agencies and the public after graduation.

The top three winners came from the different areas of biochemistry, physics and astronomy, and biology. But they had a key theme in common—they all became interested in honours study and their research topics because of their University of Victoria teachers.

Jennifer Evancio won the $2,000 first prize for her efforts to crystallize a surface protein from a parasite that causes African sleeping sickness. The 21-year-old biochemistry student says it was a lecture by Dr. Martin Boulanger (biochemistry and microbiology) that piqued her interest in research and the honours program.

“He said, ‘If you’re interested in research, come talk to me.’ and that’s exactly what I did,” says Evancio, who plans to become a medical doctor or surgeon. “It was a fantastic opportunity.”

Second-place winner Connor Bottrell, a physics and astronomy student, says much the same of Dr. Jon Willis (physics and astronomy).

“I’m drawn to the mysteries and problems of science, and I found the work of Jon Willis particularly fascinating,” says Bottrell, whose research examined how dark matter is distributed in some galaxies using a gravitational lensing technique.
He and third-place winner Johanna Berry each won $1,000.

Berry, too, spoke highly of instructors, including Dr. Roberta Hamme (earth and ocean sciences), who helped the biology student as she field tested equipment used in remote monitoring of nitrogen gas changes in the Saanich Inlet during deep water renewal.

Berry has applied to the UVic law school and hopes to use her scientific background to help draft policies to put research into action.

Honourable mentions were given to Rob Mackenzie (microbiology); Debra Wertman (biology); Jessamyn Logan (chemistry); Stephanie Yurchak (mathematics and statistics); Andrew Robertson (physics and astronomy); and Pearce Luck (earth and ocean sciences).

The festival provides students with valuable experience, says Associate Dean of Science Kathy Gillis.

“This is what they will be doing when they go into the real world. They’ll be in a conference-style setting, presenting their work in a positive way. This a great venue to have that experience, and to have it on a CV,” Gillis says.

Students were judged in three areas: scientific thought and creativity, their communication skills in presenting the research and finally on the quality of the poster and its ability to explain complex research in a logical way.

Communication skills are critical for long-term success, Gillis says.

“Those skills are key to any profession and increasingly important for scientists. We need to effectively communicate to like-minded scientists and also people who are not scientists.”

To this end, Dr. Patrick von Aderkas (biology) who organized the 25 faculty judges, offered a workshop in advance on communication skills for students.

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Keywords: Honours Fest, biochemistry, physics, astronomy, biology, research

People: Jennifer Evancio, Jon Willis, Connor Bottrell, Johanna Berry, Kathy Gillis

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