The University of Winnipeg



UWinnipeg prof shares passion for science outreach

Dr. Tabitha Wood

Dr. Tabitha Wood has volunteered with Science Rendezvous for more than a decade and says it just keeps getting better. ©UWinnipeg

The joy and enthusiasm of attendees and fellow volunteers has inspired UWinnipeg’s Dr. Tabitha Wood to volunteer with Science Rendezvous since the outreach program began in 2008.

The event began in Ontario as a way to engage the public in the wonders of science and engineering. It has since grown to include more than 300 events across 30 cities, 10 provinces, and two territories across Canada. This year’s event takes place at the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus on Saturday, May 11, coinciding with Science Odyssey week. Participants will STEAM Big as they learn the importance of science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

Back in 2008, Wood was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto. Her supervisor heard about the newly created Science Rendezvous program and encouraged her to volunteer.

“One of the first things that caught my attention about Science Rendezvous was how broadly inclusive its audience is,” she said.

After three years volunteering in Toronto, Wood accepted a position at The University of Winnipeg and moved to Manitoba.

“I was swamped with new professor workload when my department chair popped by my office to tell me about an interesting opportunity she’d just heard about,” said Wood.

That opportunity was Science Rendezvous. Dr. James Xidos at the University of Manitoba had organized the first Manitoba event the previous year and was looking to collaborate with UWinnipeg on future events. Wood quickly jumped on board.

“UWinnipeg’s Let’s Talk Science volunteers were instrumental in making that 2011 event a success. It remains one of my favourite Science Rendezvous years,” she said. “Although, the year we got a bunch of paper airplanes stuck in the wall at Richardson College for the Environment was pretty funny too.”

Dr. Tabitha Wood with chromatographic flowers

Dr. Tabitha Wood holds chromatographic flowers made at a past Science Rendezvous event. She is standing beside a gas chromatograph in the UWinnipeg Ricoh Lab for Environmental Analysis. ©UWinnipeg

Volunteering with Science Rendezvous has allowed Wood to share her passion for science outreach while making science accessible for children, families, and community members. She remembers a discussion with a participant who thought the chromatography flowers in her exhibit were not relevant to science research.

“I helped him see how the colourful flowers are generated by the process of chromatographic separation of dyes on paper,” she said. “It’s one of the most common and versatile purification procedures, used in every branch of chemical industry and research.”

Using chemistry as a way to creatively solve problems is one of the things Wood loves most about her role at UWinnipeg. Her research focuses on chemical transformations achieved by rearranging the atoms in an existing molecule.

“One of these reactions, which we’ve investigated for several years now, is called the Truce-Smiles rearrangement,” she said. “I’m proud of the accomplishments we’ve made in illuminating this interesting and useful reaction.”

Wood has seen first-hand how important it is to engage the general public with scientific research and enhance scientific literacy.

“If Canadians can see the value in the research being done, they will continue to support its importance,” she said.

When Wood began volunteering with Science Rendezvous, she didn’t imagine she’d still be involved a decade later, but seeing support for the event spread across the country has been invigorating. A few years ago, she joined the board of directors, gaining new insight into the behind the scenes details that need to be worked out each year. Countless hours, and a lot of heart, go in to establishing the annual event.

This year, Wood is working on a demonstration she’s never tried before. The Amazing Sounds of Science explores human music perception and the acoustics of musical instruments and the human voice. Other UWinnipeg volunteers include Dr. Melanie Gregg from the Faculty of Kinesiology and Applied Health, and Nicole Dorville from UWinnipeg’s Let’s Talk Science. Wood is looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

“Something that has stayed the same from year to year is the unwavering generosity and enthusiasm of our volunteer students and faculty,” said Wood. “We always find scientists with energy and cool ideas for demonstrations.”

Anyone with a passion for science outreach is encouraged to participate. Click here for details on volunteering.