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These 2 Concordia grad students could win an NSERC photo award

Arthi Ramachandran and Alicia McTaggart are among 20 finalists in the 2017 Science Exposed contest — vote now!
May 17, 2017
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By J. Latimer

Images courtesy of Arthi Ramachandran and Alicia McTaggart


They are two striking, yet very different images. One evokes Arctic climate change; the other depicts a lily-like bouquet of barium carbonate crystals.

The photographers — Arthi Ramachandran and Alicia McTaggart, respectively — are two Concordians among 20 finalists in the 2017 edition of Science Exposed, a national competition "devoted exclusively to images of scientific research, in all fields of study."

Now in its second year, Science Exposed is organized by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) because, as its website explains:

Images are an effective, relatable way to share scientific knowledge.
They can convey emotion, beauty, and even surprise, while also
fostering curiosity...

Concordia postdoc Ehsan Rezabeigi won the first-ever competition in 2016.

This year, Concordia graduate students Ramachandran and McTaggart are in the running for one of three $2,000 jury prizes, as well as a $2,000 People's Choice Award.

We asked them why and how they took their nominated images.

Read on for those stories. And vote here for your favourite Science Exposed photo!


Arthi Ramachandran: “The Arctic sea ice extent and depth is lower than ever.” | Photo: Arthi Ramachandran The Science Exposed image submitted by Arthi Ramachandran


‘It made me realize the precarious state of Arctic sea ice’

Arthi Ramachandran

Concordia alumna (BSc 14) and PhD student, Department of Biology

How does this image [above] illustrate your research at Concordia?

Arthi Ramachandran: My research focuses on studying bacterial communities in the Arctic Ocean. Part of my PhD thesis is to analyze archival Arctic time-series data to look at changes in the bacterial communities over decades. This will give us insight into how global warming is affecting the Arctic Ocean.

This image shows how the environment is changing. The sea ice extent and depth is lower than ever seen before and that’s illustrated by the amount of cracks.

Arthi Ramachandran Arthi Ramachandran

What specific effects on marine ecosystems are you most interested in?

AR: I’m most interested in seeing how global warming will change environmental factors, such as temperature and nutrient availability, and how this will affect the marine microbial food web — and in turn, biogeochemical cycles.

How did you photograph the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent?

AR: I was on the helicopter on the way back to the ship after collecting ice cores and was able to capture this photo. I glanced out the window and caught a glimpse of the vessel surrounded by fractured ice and it made me realize the precarious state of the Arctic sea ice.

What’s it like aboard a ship in the Arctic?

AR: It’s quite different from anything else I’ve experienced. Our connection to the outside world was pretty sparse. The internet access was on and off so it’s one of the few places where you don’t see everyone’s faces focused on their phones and social media.

We worked around the clock but it was one of the most interesting and exciting experiences of my life. I met amazing scientists who had been working in the Arctic for decades. It was great to be able to interact with and learn from them.

Where are you at with your studies at Concordia and what are your plans after graduating?

AR: I’m currently doing my PhD with David Walsh in the Walsh Laboratory. I should be finished in a couple of years.

I would like to pursue a career as a research scientist for the Canadian government so I can continue monitoring changes in the Arctic Ocean. I would also like to be involved in Canadian science policy because I think it’s really important to include scientists in decisions concerning conservation and biodiversity.

What would winning the NSERC Science Exposed contest mean to you?

AR: It would mean a lot, mostly because I would have achieved my goal of increasing awareness of how global warming is affecting the Arctic. I think that it’s hard for people to fully comprehend how severe the sea ice melt is because they’re not able to see those changes with their own eyes.

My image illustrates the dire situation by showing all the cracks and the consequences that accompany them in the Arctic.

Why did you choose to do your NSERC-funded research at Concordia?

AR: I chose Concordia, specifically the Walsh Laboratory, because we are at the forefront of microbial research. We have state-of-the-art facilities that allow us to generate high throughput data and answer questions about how climate change is affecting northern aquatic ecosystems. 


Alicia McTaggart's photo: 'The goal is to be able to better understand how nature works.' The Science Exposed image submitted by Alicia McTaggart


‘Chemistry is essential for designing innovative solutions to the challenges of our daily lives’


Alicia McTaggart

Master's student, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

How does this image [above] illustrate your research at Concordia?

Alicia McTaggart: My research has been centred around creating a variety of hollow microstructures using simple science and easily accessible ingredients: strontium or barium chloride and sodium metasilicate.

The “chemical calla lilies,” shown in the photo, represent one of the limitless possibilities of very complex hierarchically structured shapes that can be made from these materials.

Moreover, the image illustrates that the end product of one’s science does not have to be something conventional. It can be aesthetically appealing as well. It also evokes a surprising feeling of déjà vu — one may have seen these structures before, only growing in a garden on a very different scale.

Alicia McTaggart Alicia McTaggart

Why do you think is it important to be able to recreate bioinspired materials with the same control and perfection as is done by nature?

AM: Years of scientific studies and everyday observations have taught us that nature is able to build materials with unprecedented levels of precision, efficiency and complexity. It does so from the most basic of starting materials, typically one molecule at a time. 

By creating bioinspired materials, the goal is to be able to better understand how nature works in order to efficiently build ever more complex materials with novel functions geared toward meeting current and future needs.

An additional benefit to this technique is the surprising speed at which these flowers grow! In only a few hours we have the ability to grow objects that biomimic, where nature often takes days, weeks, months or even years.

How did you photograph the barium carbonate crystals?

AM: They are smaller than the width of a human hair, which is about 100 microns in diameter. So, in order to capture the image of the crystals, I used a scanning electron microscope.

Why are the structures shaped like that? 

AM: This is a function of the dynamic interplay that exists between silica and barium carbonate, which form the flowers, and their response to solution pH and carbon dioxide concentration. The influx of carbon dioxide into the system by simple diffusion causes the precipitation of barium carbonate, leading to the reduction of the pH (i.e. increased acidity) where growth occurs.

At the same time, the formation of silica consumes this acid, thus allowing for the barium carbonate to crystallize again. So, the sizes and shapes of these crystals are regulated by this cyclic feedback mechanism that exists between these two components.

Deeper in the solution, where the carbon dioxide concentration is lower, the nucleation density also tends to be lower. Thus, the microstructures are able to unfurl into flower-like shapes. This is a process that we can guide deterministically by allowing more carbon dioxide into the system at specific times or by changing the initial pH such that shapes can be hierarchically assembled.

Where are you at with your studies at Concordia and what are your plans after graduating?

MT: I am doing my MSc degree in chemistry at Concordia with Louis Cuccia, through the Cuccia Research Group.

I suspect my life after graduation will involve sending out countless job applications. The good thing is that chemistry is essential for designing innovative solutions to the challenges of our daily lives. More specifically, my studies have given me invaluable experience in the use of various microscopy instrumentations, crystallization techniques and material chemistry.

What would winning the NSERC Science Exposed contest mean to you?

MT: The ultimate goal of my involvement in this competition is to put my work into the homes of as many members of the Canadian public as possible. This will hopefully stimulate the interest of young scientists and maybe even challenge their view as to what it means to be a flower.

Why did you choose to do your NSERC-funded research at Concordia?

MT: To be a student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry here is to belong to a community that not only fosters curiosity and excellence in science but one that also nurtures and takes care of its student researchers. It is precisely this sort of positive environment that made me choose to do my research at Concordia.
 

Vote here to help Concordians Arthi Ramachandran or Alicia McTaggart win the People's Choice Award in NSERC's 2017 Science Exposed photo contest. The deadline is October 1, 2017, before midnight.

 



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