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Grenfell prof recognized by NSERC

Dr. Rayner-Canham accepts his NSERC medal from Dr. Holly Pike, acting vice-president, Grenfell Campus.


By Pamela Gill

Bush plane, lobster boat, snowmobile: Dr. Geoff Rayner-Canham has used just about every means of transportation possible to reach out to students in isolated areas and bring them his message: Chemistry is everywhere!

And now Dr. Rayner-Canham’s unrelenting efforts to spread the word about chemistry have earned him a prestigious award – the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s individual award for science promotion, including a medal, certificate and $10,000 prize.

A presentation ceremony was held Thursday, March 24, at the Grenfell Campus Art Gallery. Isabelle Blain, vice-president, Research Grants and Scholarships Directorate, joined the ceremony via videoconference from Ottawa.

For the last 18 years, Dr. Rayner-Canham has presented sell-out, on-campus chemistry shows to high school students at schools in western and central Newfoundland. And for the last 10 years, he has taken a modified version of the show to remote schools throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, coastal Quebec and even some schools in Nunavut.

Thanks to NSERC’s PromoScience Program, he has been able to bring that message to more than 5,000 students during his travels of more than 25,000 kilometres.

“Dr. Rayner-Canham’s outreach work not only exposes students to the relevance of science, but also raises the profile of our campus and its faculty,” said Dr. Holly Pike, acting vice-president, Grenfell Campus. “Dr. Rayner-Canham exemplifies the kind of teachers Grenfell is known for: dedicated experts who have a real interest in helping their students become well-rounded, responsible individuals who will contribute fully to society upon graduation.”

Dr. Rayner-Canham created his Chemistry is Everywhere! show as a means of bringing real chemistry to students.

“Chemistry is all around us and yet many remote schools do not offer chemistry courses. For those which do offer chemistry, the chemistry that students learn in high school is mostly stuff that goes on in the science lab,” he said. “I want students to appreciate the importance of chemistry in their lives, as well as the fact that chemistry is interesting.”

He attributes a great deal of the program’s success to the tireless efforts of his student assistants; over the years, six students have helped him deliver his message to isolated schools. Each of the student assistants, upon graduation, chose her successor. Those students – Christina Smeaton, Amy Snook, Tonia Churchill, Natalie Alteen, Laura Griffin and Tanika Chaisson – joined Dr. Rayner-Canham Thursday for the award presentation.

“The outreach has also been an eye-opening experience for these six dedicated students,” Dr. Rayner-Canham said. “For instance, the desire to bring science to the community has been carried on by the first outreach assistant, Christina Smeaton. Christina is now in graduate school at the University of Windsor and, by herself, developed a unique science outreach experience for the young children of new immigrant families to Windsor.”

The NSERC Awards for Science Promotion honour people and groups that are inspirational in the way they promote science to the general public. The awards are an opportunity for Canada's science community to recognize, support and encourage outstanding science promoters. In addition to the individual award, there is a group award valued at $25,000.