Experimenting with fruit at the synchrotron

Vanier students Victoria Wourms and Mac Kouri place a sample on the beamline at the Canadian Light Source. Photo courtesy Canadian Light Source

Vanier students conduct research at national lab in Saskatoon

It’s not every day a scientist can eat their experiments.

Eleven Vanier Collegiate students recently conducted science trials at a national synchrotron light source research lab at the University of Saskatchewan.

“I know not many people get to do it, so it was neat being one of the few people who get to experience that.” said Grade 11 student Victoria Wourms. “I’ve always had a fascination with radiation and stuff like that, so getting to see the radiation that they used and the different things they used there was really cool.”

Eleven Grade 10 and 11 students in teacher Miguel Cruz’ Health Science 20 course participated in the project at Canadian Light Source (CLS), which produces the brightest light in Canada. After a comprehensive tour and meeting with many staff members, students conducted an experiment to analyze fruits and vegetables using advanced scientific equipment.

“My favourite part was when we actually got to be hands-on with the machine and we got to see how it works,” said Wourms. “Just finding out what’s actually in different fruits and vegetables was really neat as well. I didn’t know that iron was in literally everything, so that was cool to see.”

Cruz said his class is studying a nutrition unit right now and the research tied into the curriculum.

“The purpose of the experiment was to analyze and compare different types of elements in fruits and vegetables, the presence and concentration of them,” said Cruz. “The kids enjoyed it. It was neat to actually see them interact with some scientists that do this on a daily basis and show them how to use a million-dollar-machine.”

He added that if he had tried to explain what the machine did in class, it likely would have been too complex for the students to understand.

“You actually have to experience it literally to appreciate the complexity and the work that’s involved,” he said. “There’s so many people involved to keep the machine running.”

The opportunity was provided through CLS’ special outreach program, the Light Source Student Experience. CLS sent flyers to schools in the province, however a limited number of people could attend.

Cruz said as soon as he heard about it, he was eager to register his students because it was a hands-on learning opportunity.

Prior to taking part in the experiments, students had to achieve at least 80 per cent on a safety quiz, as there is a potential risk of radiation.

“They went through it with all of us, how they mitigate to prevent exposure to radiation. Myself, I had to take four modules and I had to get 80 per cent on those as well,” said Cruz. “You don’t just show up. You prepare for it a little bit.”

Tracy Walker, education programs lead at CLS, said there are also benefits of getting students involved in science.

“One of our main draws or goals of our education program at CLS is to provide a hands-on real-world experience as much as possible for students to learn how to inquire into the world around them. How can they ask questions? How can they search for information in an experimental way?” she said.

“The more people that can connect with current research that’s going on, I think the better science literacy and the better society is at understanding the world around them.”

Another main program goal is to get more students to pursue a career in science.

“When I was a student, science was boring. (You would) read and regurgitate answers,” said Walker. “Part of what I want to help students learn is science is exploration and creative and exciting and when you get to do hands-on things, it really opens things up.”