Science fair to showcase inventors of tomorrow

Most of us think nothing of going to the kitchen, turning on the stove, and making food - be it scrambled eggs or a souffl. We owe the fact we can do this to Canadian Thomas Ahearn, inventor of the electric stove.

Ahearn was an electrical engineer by training, but he also had a career as a business man, telegraph operator and Ottawa branch manager of the telegraph and telephone companies in the late 1800s. He started an electrical contracting business which eventually grew into a network of companies controlling electricity supply, streetcars and streetlights in Ottawa. Needless to say, his inventions and his business acumen eventually made him rich.

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This coming Saturday, UNBC and the School District will host the Central Interior Science Exhibition at the Bentley Science Centre. It is a celebration of some of our best and brightest young minds from around the north as they explore the world of science and dabble in some of the latest technology.

It's a chance for a future Ahearn to strut his or her stuff.

Many of us are not aware of our science and technology history, but Canadians have made important contributions in a number of areas, not just household appliances. Canadians scientists invented Plexiglas, AM radio, Pablum, the snowmobile, the zipper, discovered insulin and a whole host of other breakthroughs.

The Government of Canada, through Industry Canada, has a great deal of information about Canadian inventions on their website while Wikipedia has a long list with hyperlinks. Canadians have definitely left their mark on the world.

Take Plexiglas as an example.

It's actually a compound called poly-methyl methacrylate - a name only a chemist could love. It is an organic polymer. It is tough and transparent. It is ideal for the glass in an ice hockey rink or the windows of a jet. It was invented by a McGill chemist William Chalmers.

Indeed, McGill University in Montreal has generated a number of famous polymer chemists, including James Guillet who has invented biodegradable plastic garbage bags and might have solved a major environmental problem. Chemists are working there now on all sorts of new degradable polymers to help solve the global polymer problem.

As another example, AM radio was devised by Reginald Fessenden back in 1905. In his day, he was called the "father of radio."

His invention allowed the transmission of human speech by modulating the amplitude of the radio waves. Without Fessenden's breakthrough our lives would be significantly different.

I doubt television as we know it would have been invented without radio as a precursor.

The world of technology is highly interwoven with one invention kick-starting others. Radios led to the invention of television which facilitated computers which allowed for the creation of smart phones and so on.

Who know where it will lead? Wearable tech? Digital implants?

Certainly one of the earliest uses of a television screen was the invention of the electron microscope. While early microscopes were first invented in Germany, Canadian Eli Burton and his students Cecil Hall, James Hillier and Albert Prebus designed and built the first North American electron microscope in 1938 at the University of Toronto.

As with radio, electron microscopy opened up whole new worlds to scientific inquiry and has led to many modern inventions. It is unlikely we would have modern microchips or our understanding of viruses and bacteria without being able to look at their world in such fine detail.

Pablum was invented by paediatricians T.G.H. Drake, A. Brown, and T.F. Tisdall. The snowmobile by Armand Bombardier. The zipper by Gideon Sundback. Canadians all. Yes, we have made the world a better place.

Growing up in Vancouver, none of the schools I attended featured a science fair. To the best of my knowledge, there wasn't one held in all of Vancouver. I can't speak from personal experience about the benefits, but I have been involved in science fairs for all of my adult life. I have seen some pretty amazing projects and some very talented students over the years.

Some have even presented inventions such as Ashley Anderson and Forrest Tower who went on to compete at the Taiwan International Science Fair in Taipei, Taiwan, and earned third place in the environmental category for their project Application of Biofuel Technologies for Third World Countries.

This Saturday, the Central Interior Science Exhibition in the Bentley Science Centre at UNBC will allow our young scientists and inventors to show us what they can do. It is sure to amaze as there are always some amazing students. And there are always interesting inventions and explorations of science and technology at the event.

So please come out and have a look. The CISE is for everyone and you might get to meet the next great Canadian scientist or inventor.

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