It began in 1962 as the Atlantic Provinces Inter-University Committee on the Sciences, but its members display an enthusiasm that isn’t reflected in the bureaucratic title. And, in light of its 50th anniversary coming up in 2012, the organization, formerly known as APICS, is rebranding itself with a catchier name: Science Atlantic. With a goal of raising its profile, the organization also has developed a new website, www.scienceatlantic.ca.
Science Atlantic’s predecessor was established to build formal ties between scientists and students on various campuses and has also included representatives of the region’s government labs. The interactions among these groups, highlighted by regular conferences in key scientific disciplines, are aimed at making the East Coast research community stronger and more vibrant.
“A lot of our institutions are small,” said Chris Moore, dean of science at Dalhousie University and vice-chair of Science Atlantic. “Without [Science Atlantic], they would be quite isolated. It really helps to bring them together and introduce them to people from similar universities.”
Dr. Moore’s own encounters with the organization began when he became a faculty member in 1988 and started arranging for students to take part in its conferences. “It was really the first opportunity they had to go to a scientific meeting and present their work,” he recalled. “It’s a great introduction to that aspect of being a scientist – communicating your results to peers.”
Science Atlantic includes 10 subcommittees, in animal care, aquaculture and fisheries, biology, chemistry, computer science, earth science, environment, mathematics and statistics, physics and astronomy, and psychology, with representatives from its 18 member institutions.
Keith De’Bell, associate vice-president, re-search, at St. Francis Xavier University, said the organization augments the impact of science education at the member institutions. “The intertwined nature of research and education is, in my view, absolutely key,” he said. “Through its conferences and other activities, [Science Atlantic] emphasizes the importance of research for undergraduates as part of their learning experience.”
Kyle Hill, now a PhD student at McGill University, was one of the undergraduates who benefited when he was studying math and physics at Mount Allison University. He contrasted the relaxed atmosphere of those events with the intimidating experience of many scientific gatherings.
“You go to a [Science Atlantic] conference, and it’s like an old family reunion. You go there as a student, with your professors, but you end up meeting professors from other universities. By the end, you have gotten to know all these students that you would not have otherwise met if it wasn’t this collegial, almost family-based environment.”
Mr. Hill said one of the main priorities of Science Atlantic is a respect for research communication, not only in exchanges with scientific peers but also in talking with the public. The communication award, he said, was among the most highly regarded honours at any of its conferences.