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Grad students contemplate most beautiful science experiments and literature

Posted by tmayer on Jan 23rd, 2014 and filed under Research. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Research on Tap

Research on Tap

Brock graduate students Jory Korobanik and Julia Polyck-O’Neill would agree with Plato - beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Next week, before a crowd of graduate students and faculty researchers at Alphie’s Trough they will offer personal and subjective views into their worlds of science and art.

Korobanik, a doctoral student in physics and president of Brock’s Graduate Students’ Association, will talk about what he considers the five most beautiful science experiments. Polyck-O’Neill, a doctoral student in interdisciplinary humanities, will share her top five choices for the most beautiful works of literature.

Their TedX-style talks will happen on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 4:30 to 6 p.m., as part of the Research on Tap monthly series presented by the Graduate Students’ Association and the Faculty of Graduate Studies in conjunction with the graduate student Academic + Professional Development skills program. More details and registration are available online.

It’s been an interesting and challenging exercise to come up with the lists, said Korobanik and Polyck-O’Neill.

It’s not your typical research presentation yet it has led them to contemplate the history of their discipline and the reasons why they are passionate about research.

They’re sure their lists are bound to solicit responses from a room full of scientists and scholars, and that will mean a lively and engaging event for everyone.

Korobanik considered two main criteria to help arrive at his list: the not-so-common concept of “experimental elegance,” and the impact the experiment has made in its field and in the “way we think as researchers/society.”

“My idea of experimental elegance is the clever usage of materials of the day to create a simple experiment to get the information sought after,” he said.

An example of an elegant experiment is Eratosthenes’ calculation of the Earth’s circumference by measuring the lengths of shadows cast by identical objects at different locations in Egypt, he explained.

The experiment is based on the fact that identical objects will cast different shadows on a curved surface.

“Considering this was done around 200 BC, it is an impressive feat,” Korobanik said. “With essentially two sticks and cartographic knowledge of the geographical distance between the sticks one can calculate the Earth’s circumference with fair accuracy.”

In contemplating her beautiful five list, Polyck-O’Neill was guided by her love for books from childhood, when she read under her bed covers with a flashlight, to researcher. In between, she spent summers working at the public library in Whitehorse, writing and performing book reviews for CBC Radio North.

A leading contender for her list is James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. To Polyck-O’Neill, the book represents a personal passage as a researcher.

“When I picked the book up years ago, the text seemed absolutely nonsensical and virtually unreadable,” she says. “Finnegans Wake is a kind of intellectual touchstone for me. It’s a metaphor for my personal and academic development. It’s still complex, but the complexity is no longer frustrating, but enticing.

“The work is embedded with elements of literary and cultural process, intertextuality, self-reflexivity, translation theory, and politics, as well as references to material culture and aesthetics: essentially, everything I love in my own research pursuits. The work is timeless and challenging, and can be revisited again and again, which is another important factor in my selection process for this talk.”

As the Brock student ambassadors for the Research Matters campaign, the duo’s talks also provide them with another opportunity to put the spotlight on graduate student research. Research Matters is a provincial initiative co-ordinated by the Council of Ontario Universities to raise the profile of university research.

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