Heather Ikert, University of Waterloo, and Oana Birceanu, McMaster University

Fall is when our chapter’s year starts, and what a great year 2018–2019 has been for Laurentian SETAC! If you are a member or if you have been following our progress throughout the years, you already know that we are one of the most active regional chapters of SETAC North America. With more than 120 members located in the Ontario and Buffalo area, our chapter has offered short courses, engaged in community events and hosted pub night speaker events in four separate locations across the province in only one short year. We brought science to the classrooms of high school students and promoted the great research that our student and non-student members do every day. We did it all so that science becomes accessible to all and a career choice to those just starting out – where equity, diversity and inclusion are welcomed and celebrated.

Student Engagement and Excellence

On 27 March 2019, members of the Laurentian Chapter of SETAC gathered at the Clock Tower Brew Pub in Ottawa, Ontario, “shining a spotlight on students.” This event, organized by Gillian Manning and Susan Roe with support from Rebecca Dalton, Katie Hill, Pepe Rodriguez, Kristine Hammill and Cristina Inglis, was put in place to highlight graduate student research and excellence. Five graduate students were selected to present. They were Amber Dyck, Julie Cox, Tasnia Sharin, Sue Zhang and Cynthia Cheney, who won the best presentation award for her talk on “Paleoecotoxicology: The application of novel tools to assess the toxicity of historically contaminated lake sediments.”

Another meeting of the minds occurred at the University of Ottawa on 7 June 2019, where the membership gathered for the annual general meeting (AGM). The theme was “Bridging Environmental Science & Policymaking in the 21st Century,” and we had plenary talks by Magali Houde, who spoke on “Investigating environmental contaminants of concern to support decision making: From the St. Lawrence to the Arctic;” a research scientist from Environment & Climate Change Canada; and Angelika Zidek, a senior manager at Health Canada, who covered “How research and regulatory risk assessment have advanced policy making in Canada over the last decade.”

At the meeting, three quarters of the presenters were given by students, who had an opportunity to compete for a number of presentation awards. Determining winners is always tough as there were several excellent presentations. First place for pest oral presentation went to Rebecca Osborne, University of Guelph. Sarah Graetz, University of Guelph, won second place, and third place went to Kirsten Smythe, University of Ottawa. For poster presentations, Brian Atkinson, University of Guelph, won first place, followed by Melody Gavel, University of Ottawa, in second place and Kevin Matten, University of Guelph, in third place. The Maria Colavecchia-Pfuetzner Memorial Travel Award was presented to Rebecca Osborne, University of Guelph. This award supported student travel to the SETAC North America 40th Annual Meeting, which was held in Toronto in November 2019, and was generously matched by SETAC North America.

Community Outreach

Members of the Laurentian SETAC Chapter consistently work to bring science into the community, and the 2018–2019 year was no different. In February 2019, to celebrate diversity in science and the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Laurentian SETAC held a Diversity in Science day at Robert Bateman High School in Burlington, Ontario, which was very well received by students and teachers. Ève Gilroy, Leah Chibwe, Sarah Roberts and Richard Frank, all with Environment and Climate Change Canada, were the leading minds behind this event and kept us all organized. Laurentian SETAC and its partners from academia, business and government took over the high school for a day to bring science in… well, the gym and cafeteria. Display booths showing sampling equipment for water, soil and air, scuba gear, instruments to measure water and air quality, preserved invasive Asian carps, live invasive snails and sea lamprey tattoos, among many other things, were all present and ready for the students to either try on, touch or stick on. Of course, nothing would have been possible without the enthusiastic volunteers from all walks of SETAC professions, who took it upon themselves to introduce young minds to the wonderful world of science and encourage them to pursue one of the many career options that a scientist has. Laurentian SETAC has celebrated the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which is held on 11 February, every year since it was announced in 2015 by hosting a variety of community events and promoting scientists on Twitter (@LaurentianSETAC).

Spring in our community brings about new events for our chapter, such as science fairs and tree planting. We are an annual sponsor for the Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair and for the Ottawa Regional Science Fair, where we award two prizes, at the junior and senior level, for the best project related to environmental toxicology, chemistry, pollution, contamination, remediation or environmental protection. Our chapter’s involvement in these science fairs allows us to engage with junior (grade 7) and senior (grades 11–12) budding scientists, who often wow us with their tenacity, research skills and, yes, data and statistical analysis. Laurentian SETAC members Gerald Tetreault, Meghan Fuzzen, Elise Millar, Hardeep Gill and Rebecca Dalton helped organize and participated in the judging of the two fairs, held in spring 2019 in Hamilton and Ottawa, respectively. As for the projects that won the Laurentian SETAC award? They were uniquely fantastic! The topics ranged from best candle wax alternative and effects of fluid nutrients on green algae in Ottawa to Tigernut Liquid Coagulant (TLC) to reduce water turbidity and ways to clean up waste water in Hamilton.

Tree planting in April to celebrate Earth Day is an anticipated event for our chapter and one that we have been participating in for more than five years. We participate in this event through sponsorship and by inviting our members to get down and dirty and plant some trees in our local community. This is a family-friendly event, organized by the Rotary Club of Guelph in partnership with the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA). The goal of this event is to plant thousands of trees over 100 acres of open fields near Guelph Lake, and our members have been making a great contribution towards that every year, with 2019 being no exception. Our green initiatives don’t stop there! We strive to ensure that our AGMs are carbon neutral by reducing our emissions through programs such as carpooling and choosing local food, and we offset any remaining emissions.

Science Communication Within the Society

Word cloud of 2018-2019 Laurentian SETAC pub night topics

Word cloud of the 2018–2019 Laurentian SETAC pub night topics.

Throughout the year, the chapter has continued to be very active with fifteen regular pub nights in Ottawa, Burlington, Guelph and the Greater Toronto Area. These happen thanks to our dedicated volunteers and especially to the pub night committees who organize them. Pub nights feature a laid back environment where speakers are invited to share their research at a local pub and have some casual discussion afterwards. Each talk is a chance to chill out with some food and drinks, learn some science, meet new people and network, catch up with old friends and highlight some of our Very Employable People – students and recent grads.

Opportunities for Learning

In October 2018, Laurentian SETAC organized a one-day Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) field assistant course led by Tim Pascoe and Tana McDaniel from Environment and Climate Change Canada. Attendees had “waders-on” experience in benthic invertebrate stream monitoring and assessment to the nationally acceptable standard.

Another chance to get our “student” hats on was the short course associated with our annual general meeting on 6 June 2019. The topic was “Adverse Outcome Pathways – Principles and Best Practices,” taught by Jason O’Brien with Environment and Climate Change Canada. This course provided a detailed description of the Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP) framework and guidance on best practices for contributing to the AOP knowledge base. The class ranged from theoretical components reinforced with practical examples and in-class exercises.

Looking back on the year and everything that we have accomplished is very encouraging, and we are grateful to our members. As we now reflect on what has passed and think about our future endeavors, we would like to say “Thank you!” to all our volunteers and a big shout-out to our amazing students! It has been another great year for scientific discovery, student excellence, community outreach and learning opportunities. We also encourage you to add activities to your chapter’s yearly calendar. You could connect your chapter members with exciting organizations and events in your area. Or, you could even start up new events within the membership to get you and your chapter involved. Check out our website for more information. We are looking forward to what the 2019–2020 year can bring to our chapter and yours!

Author’s contact information: heather.ikert@gmail.com and obirceanu@gmail.com

Pictured in photo from left to right: Richard Frank, Ève Gilroy, Leah Chibwe and Sarah Roberts. Photo courtesy of Laurentian SETAC.

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