Science

Students bring research out of the lab at Science Slam Halifax

Organizer hopes to continue growth of new event after STEMFest

Ariana Joseph started her presentation at Science Slam Halifax with an idea: how lasers can help people live to be 100 years old.

The 18-year-old Saint Mary’s University chemistry student was on stage at the Halifax Convention Centre on Tuesday for the event, which is part of STEMfest 2018. She was one of eight post-secondary science students competing for bragging rights — and cash prizes.

After she posed the laser idea, Joseph asked the audience what they thought the misdiagnosis rate of cancer was: one per cent, five per cent or 15 per cent, before revealing it could be anywhere from 15 to 28 per cent.

“These are staggering statistics,” said Joseph.

Joseph was the first to present and youngest competitor of the evening.

During her presentation, she said the research she’s contributing to, using lasers to automate cancer detection, could lead to new technology for earlier diagnosis and treatment.

“This machine would be extremely accurate and would help to lower the missed diagnosis rate,” said Joseph. If successful, it could save lives.

Science Slam Halifax’s three judges graded each presenter on their communication skills, creativity and content accuracy. The contestants had a maximum of five minutes to capture the imagination of the audience — without using charts, slides or graphs.

Joseph on stage during her presentation in front of the Science Slam Halifax judges.   Ian Gibb

Joseph came to Canada from Antigua and Barbuda on a full scholarship and began university at 16. Her interest in biology and chemistry started early.

“I grew up with science all around the house,” she said after the event. Joseph recalled at age four asking her parents if she could sing about becoming a gynecologist and obstetrician at her pre-school graduation.

Her goal now is to pursue a master’s degree in chemistry and develop synthetic organs to keep people off donor lists.

Other presentation topics included microscopic bacteria cleaning seawater, the link between hearing loss and dementia, and what scientists learn about climate change from tree rings.

First place and People’s Choice Award went to Carla Crossman, a PhD candidate at Saint Mary’s University. Her topic was on mating between whales and dolphins.

Joseph didn’t win, but hopes to participate in more events like Science Slam Halifax and develop her communication skills. She said it’s important to make science “friendly” to the general public.

“People should be aware of what’s going on in the scientific world,” said Joseph.

She received positive feedback from friends.

While science slams have been popular in Europe for years, Emma Finlayson-Trick, one of the organizers, said they are new to Canada. The first Science Slam Canada was hosted in Vancouver in 2016.

Finlayson-Trick hopes this year’s Science Slam Halifax is the start of a reoccurring event.

“It’s clearly something people are excited about,” she said.

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