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Technical to general, delegates found a good mix of sessions at Sherbrooke.

A raft of interesting sessions in three hotels kept delegates hopping during the 76th CSC Conference and Exhibition

The delegates came away impressed. A small group of dedicated volunteers, mostly from the Universite de Sherbrooke, organized a first-rate technical program and convinced some 1,300 people to visit a growing city 120 km east of Montreal. The occasion, of course, was the 76th Canadian Society for Chemistry (CSC) Conference and Exhibition.

With almost 950 papers grouped in 50 sessions, it was the largest meeting of its kind ever held in Sherbrooke. The popular suppliers' exhibit attracted 30 companies.

The size of the conference and number of technical sessions make it impossible to cover everything. The following write-up will be a brief overview of the highlights of the CSC meeting including some sessions, awards, special meetings and social events.

One of the first events of a very busy week was the Union Carbide Award Lecture, part of a chemical education session. This year's winner is Elisabeth Ann Dixon, FCIC, University of Calgary, who spoke about Curriculum in Crisis and Controlled Change.

Is the freshman chemistry curriculum in crisis? Yes it is, said Dixon, but it's not just the curriculum. Faculty attitudes and course content are just part of the problem. There is also no sense of a community among the students; they feel isolated.

November 1991 was the beginning of "the revitalization of first-year chemistry" at the University of Calgary. It was an active period of professional development for the instructor as well, e.g., learning cycles and styles. How to institute change "without going off the rails"? What are the objectives and what are the constraints?

The constraints, or "realities", as Dixon described them, include financial, administrative, personnel, space and CIC accreditation. The major objective is to ensure that the traditional order of priorities is turned upside down. That is, that first year chemistry's main goal is not to serve as a prerequisite for future chemistry courses, but that it appeal to a wider audience. This was achieved without doing "radical" things to the course content, noted Dixon.

Now, being asked to teach first year chemistry at the University of Calgary is considered an honor, not a "fate worse than death". The curriculum is designed to build themes into the first chapters of introductory texts, e.g., chemical bonding, the nature of chemical reactions.

The whole theme of chemistry 201 is Materials Science, "to show what you can make in a synthetic laboratory based upon principles learned in materials science," explained Dixon. "Make sure all the parts fit together and there is some sequential reasoning." Computer-assisted learning is integral to all parts of the course.

How do you know when you are on the right track? There are various methods and they revolve around evaluations of students' perceptions and performance. A questionnaire was answered by 574 of the 961 students enrolled in chemistry 201 in 1991. Students' discussions of their perceptions were videotaped and informal observations were also made.

As a method of learning, most students preferred a text when compared singly to other methods. However, most wanted a combination of learning tools. For evaluation, multiple choice exams were the most popular choice, far ahead of the second preference, short answer exams.

Other numbers reflect the success the chemistry department has had with the changes; 87% thought the course was taught well, 63.6% had an increased interest in chemistry.

The success enjoyed was not due to the work of any single individual, Dixon added, but due to the dedication of all the chemistry department staff.

In response to questions from the audience, Dixon said that the effort was made to have students try to teach each other because it leads to a better understanding of the material and students are a good resource for each other.

How are members of the tutorial groups selected? By alphabetical order, so friends from high school could not sit with each other.

How is participation in the group tutorials assured? By assigning tasks.

Where did you find the time to institute all the changes? This is something the department is concerned about because it wants to avoid staff burnout.

Brian Newbold, FCIC, Universite de Moncton, discussed some of the problems faced by Moncton in obtaining suitable French-language material. At Moncton, the importance of organic chemistry is stressed early in the curriculum and the links and relevance to everyday life are emphasized.

A special Science Policy Forum, organized by Allen Krantz, MCIC, newly-elected president of the CSC, and vice-president and director, Syntex Research Canada, was held during the lunch hour Monday and attracted a large audience. (A special report on this session may be found on page 23 of this issue.)

"A lot of dirt" to be cleaned up

Monday afternoon, a session sponsored by the Environment Division dealt with the theme of Urban Waste. One of the speakers, Ned Lynch, Environment Canada, spoke about Contaminated Sites - An Update of Canadian Activities.

Lynch is manager of the National Contaminated Sites Remediation Program (NCSRP). As he said, "We need to clean up a lot of dirt in Canada. We're only beginning to understand the issue now."

He cited examples of the clean-ups underway. These include sites in LaSalle, QC, where toxic industrial wastes were deposited in municipal landfills; Ottawa, which has a problem with coal tar wastes; Sydney, NS, where the Sysco plant discharge has resulted in the $34-million Sydney tar ponds clean-up project.

There are three objectives for the NCSRP:

* Apply the polluter pays principle.

* Clean up "orphan" high-risk contaminated sites.

* With industry, develop and demonstrate new and innovative clean-up technologies.

A 5-year, $250-million program has been established. Costs will be shared 50:50 between the federal government and the provinces. Some $50-million has been earmarked for orphan site remediation, $200-million for technology development and demonstration.

The funding for development and on-site demonstrations of clean-up methods may also be used to develop and demonstrate new and innovative technology for site characterization and assessment as well as compliance monitoring.

To meet NCSRP criteria, proposals must: be applicable to a wide range of sites, site conditions and contaminants; adapt to missing data; consider present and future land uses; place equal emphasis on the environment and human health; consider analytical detection limits; consider the background of the ambient concentration of contaminants.

Technical support documents will be produced. They will include guidelines for sampling, analysis and data management. A handbook on the subsurface assessment of contaminated sites will also be available.

So far, the government has identified 29 high-risk orphan sites, mostly in Quebec and Ontario. There will be follow-up as many sites need to be recleaned. NCSRP will monitor the projects.

Preaching to the converted

Popularizing Chemistry was the theme of a chemical education session held Monday afternoon. Sponsored by Dow Chemical, it was devoted to the art of teaching and explaining chemistry to children, particularly pre-high school students. Organizer Joseph Schwarcz, Vanier College and McGill University, said one of the problems with sessions like these is that you are preaching to the converted. "We already know that science is exciting." Schwarcz was one of the co-winners of the first McNeil Medal for the Public Awareness of Science (ACCN, January 1993, p. 14).

One of the presenters was Douglas Hayward, FCIC, who developed the Do-It-Yourself-Chemistry kit. "To decrease the level of chemophobia, we chemists must 'show and tell' in elementary schools," Hayward stated. Hayward has presented his show to thousands of school children, teachers and parents across BC. In the last 18 months he has asked PhD students to accompany him to his presentations. They then talk about their careers and work to the young students.

"Chemistry has a big problem because of the threat people feel," he added. These types of presentations will help remove that perception of a threat.

The first of two chemical education sessions detailing women's contributions to chemistry was held on the Tuesday morning, chaired by Geoff Rayner-Canham, FCIC, Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. Seven speakers looked at women's considerable contributions to the field from an historical perspective.

A paper by Maureen Julian, Virginia Tech, studied Women in Crystallography. Although this field is perceived as being dominated by women, they only make up 14% of crystallographers worldwide. However, this is relatively good when compared to the 2% of physicists who are women. It was stressed that the positive action of a few individuals can really make a difference.

Rayner-Canham spoke about Some Early Women Chemists, and he did mean early. Going back some 3,000 years, he noted that the first chemists were women. With some vivid examples, Rayner-Canham demonstrated how some of the issues of women and chemistry being discussed today were those of yesteryear as well.

By the early 1900s, the glass ceiling had really come into effect. For the most part, women could be no more than assistants. There was a real belief that education and learning were harmful to women. It has been and continues to be a steep uphill battle for women in chemistry.

Anne Marie Kubanek, MCIC, John Abbott College, explained how women's contributions to chemistry have been closely linked to decisions they made concerning home and children. She discussed three women in particular, who worked in the early to mid-1900s. Ellen Gleditsch was a pioneer nuclear chemist at the University of Oslo who had studied at the Curie Laboratory before the first world war. Kubanek said that Gleditsch was a "realist and traditionalist" who followed the principles of her time and did not marry because she could not reconcile marriage and a career. A current John Abbott project will follow 40 women who entered the college's science program. Perhaps what it means to be a successful scientist needs to be redefined: Is it all competitiveness and opportunism or can it include fun and flexibility?

The stories of Ida Noddack and Irene Joliot-Curie were told by Peter Mahaffy, MCIC, King's College, and Tina Crossfield, McGill. Mahaffy, substituting for Fathi Habashi, MCIC, Universite Laval, noted how Noddack discovered the last known metal, rhenium, in 1925 and proposed the possibility of splitting the uranium atom five years before physicists conceived the process.

Joliot-Curie's story is tightly bound to her more famous mother. Atomic fission was her specialty. She discovered artificial radioactivity and her work opened the door to nuclear medicine.

The proceedings of this session and the afternoon session have been bound together in a booklet and printed courtesy of AECL. The co-editors are Rayner-Canham, Penelope Codding, FCIC, and Viola Birss, FCIC. The latter two are with the department of chemistry, University of Calgary, and are the ones to contact if more information about the book is desired.

Industry and education

It was Merck-Frosst Canada's turn to sponsor a chemical education session -- The Role of the Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industry in Chemical Education -- held on the Wednesday morning. Jack Pal, MCIC, Dow Chemical, discussed The Lambton County Science Education Partnership.

This is an excellent initiative by Dow to provide a hands-on, high quality science program for elementary school (grades 1-6) students. The Lambton County program is the fifteenth established by Dow in North America. Another feature of the program is the establishment of a jointly managed (Dow and two local school boards) science resource centre and professional development program for teachers. Partnerships are also being developed with the Etobicoke and Strathcona County school boards.

The Merck Frosst Centre for Therapeutic Research is also very involved in the community. Naomi Yergey, an information specialist at Merck (and contributor to ACCN), detailed the projects Merck has been involved with from grade schools to adults. As part of National Chemistry Week festivities, Merck held a three-day program for its employees. All the staff saw how new drugs are developed. This, said Yergey, is an excellent tool for promoting a company's image among its employees (ACCN, February 1993, p. 19). The company also sponsored the visit of Canadian professor of the year Mary Frances Richardson, FCIC, to speak to female college and university science students (ACCN, May 1993, p. 6). Other activities Merck is involved with include a summer camp, Quebec's Expo-Science program and the International Chemistry Olympiad.

What's next? Yergey said there is a need for companies to work more closely with guidance counsellors. Members of the scientific community must join forces to create alliances. "We need to reach out and communicate with each other -- what works, what doesn't."

The Alberta experience

In his lecture, the winner of the Polysar Award, Michael Falk, MCIC, Harry Ainlay High School, Edmonton, AB, spoke about School-Business Partnerships: "An Educator's Perspective". Falk is a chemist who became a teacher.

"If educators are to continue to provide high quality education in an era of decreased funding, opportunities outside the school must be available and the school must be willing to forge partnerships," Falk stated.

The Sherrit Gordon-Harry Ainlay High School alliance has been in force for a number of years. Falk stressed that this type of activity is mutually beneficial. For the schools, partnerships provide a context for what is taught; industry can provide schools with information on chemical safety, storage and regulations and may even provide some chemicals and old equipment.

Business benefits from the wealth of talent in schools, not only academic but cultural as well, e.g., decorative art, school band concerts; company personnel may be able to use school facilities for recreation or academic needs. "The word chemical has many fewer negative connotations to students involved in some way with the chemical industry," Falk noted. "This leads to a more positive image in society."

A partnership may be formed as easily as contacting a school or school board. There is no formalized method for initiating one, Falk added. But, before proceeding, there are some steps to follow.

* Start small, plan well, don't rush.

* Expectations: Have a clear mission statement.

* Communications must be open and regular.

* Commitment must come from the top down of both sides; having one person as the consistent contact helps.

* Publicity is important. This type of program usually provides positive publicity for both partners.

* Evaluation: Usually done after one year -- discuss improvements needed and the direction the project should follow.

Speaking about the role of industry in curriculum development, Falk said that it is critical that industry and university let governments know what is needed. The next step is to focus on an apprenticeship program for the non-university stream. "We are creating a society without trades," Falk concluded.

Theodore Sourkes, McGill, looked at the Ivory Tower-Cinder Block Tower: Training for Research. The amount of money available for future health sciences R&D is unknown but it is obvious that the government share of funding will drop.

More collaboration between university and industry will be the norm. Already, there is a core of university scientists doing targetted research. However, Sourkes stressed that each type of academic can gain if industry assumes its

role with a "broad view". Sourkes noted that industry can profit greatly from future technology transfer.

Sourkes said that knowledge-based research is now at risk. Governments are impatient, hoping to cash in on applied research to make Canada competitive. "The university mission is teaching and basic research, and basic research cannot be done in conjunction with industry."

There is "obvious" pressure to find applications for what has been discovered. Sourkes fears that fundamental research will be downgraded in favor of a push for commercial results, yet fundamental research should be given an increased role based on the applications that have resulted from its discoveries.

In the same session, R.N. Young, FCIC, Merck Frosst, told delegates about Merck Frosst's student program in his presentation, Chemistry Students in the Pharmaceutical Lab: A Positive and Synergistic Experience. Merck is trying to show students how chemistry has a critical role in the pharmaceutical industry and the best way to demonstrate that is to have them work in the company's labs.

The goals are to stimulate the best to pursue graduate degrees; show that challenging jobs exist in the pharmaceutical industry; identify the best chemistry undergraduates who could be future employees; enhance the connections between Merck Frosst and universities; have students help Merck Frosst chemists.

The students provide Merck Frosst with a flow of "new blood". It helps train younger staff in "people" management and it provides the manpower to let Merck Frosst pursue "Blue Sky" ideas.

The students have access to modern facilities; they interact with top chemists in the field; they have the opportunity to co-author publications; they are given good wages, career counselling and, in many cases, one-on-one training.

The students are expected to work hard, be enthusiastic and curious, achieve high marks in school and prepare a final oral and written report about their work.

To end the session, Alexander Duca, Polytechnical Institute of Iasi, Romania, provided an insight into the chemical education system and chemical industry in Romania. He noted that the ability of Romanian scientists will be one of the key forces that will allow the country to gain a prominent place in the world scientific community. An interview with Dr. Duca will be featured in an upcoming issue of ACCN.

Chemists help fight lung disease

The Environment Division organized an Industrial Hygiene session on the Wednesday afternoon. One of the speakers, Guy Perrault, MCIC, Institut de recherche en sante et en securite du travail (IRSST), discussed Chemistry and the Prevention of Lung Disease Caused by Mineral Fibres.

Over the years, chemists have been in the forefront in the prevention of lung disease such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. The geometry, durability and concentration are the three characteristics of lung disease-causing mineral fibres which are the keys to IRSST research. The work of chemists has helped to determine fibre concentrations in workplace air, to identify the fibres and to develop and implement programs to eliminate these fibres at the source of emission and/or worker protection programs.

Generally, fibres have two classifications: natural, such as asbestos, or synthetic, e.g., man made mineral fibres such as mineral wool, glass wool and ceramic fibres.

Eric Chatfield, FCIC, Chatfield Technical Consulting, explained Methodologies for the Evaluation of Fibres in the Workplace. He noted that more and more workers are becoming sensitized to the asbestos and fibre issue. However, what is little known is that often the replacement can be as bad as the original asbestos-type material.

Chatfield described phase contrast optical microscopy, the accepted method for routine monitoring of airborne asbestos fibres in the workplace. However, PCM does not identify the fibres; the results it gives will include other fibres as well. One assumption that has taken hold is that in measuring for asbestos-related fibres, all fibres are considered to be asbestos. If it is necessary to identify the fibres, then scanning electron microscopy or transmission electron microscopy can be used.

Easier retrieval

The Organic Division organized a full day session on chemical information retrieval on the Thursday. In the afternoon, Richard Lowe, Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), told delegates it was self-defeating for them to be models of efficiency and productivity in the lab while in the library, "You've hardly advanced since graduate school and in some cases, regressed."

He discussed some of the basic types of indexes -- structure-based, citation -- and then described the ISI Citation Index.

He claimed that this new system overcomes shortcomings associated with title search and nomenclature. The Citation Index capitalizes on related records. For example, for two papers cited in another, by pulling up the original, the system will also pull up the papers that cite the original.

He advised delegates what to look for when shopping for a new retrieval system. It must have: "electronics-plus", multiple access points, and support browsing, i.e., allows the user to explore the information.

For many years, Peter Gund was with the Merck Research Laboratory in Rahway, NJ. He is about to embark on a new career with Molecular Simulation Inc. His presentation was on Integrating Chemical and Biological Information for Pharmaceutical Research.

He took the point of view of a user, not a vendor. Gund noted that drug discovery is still an inefficient process. For every 10,000 molecules there may be only one new drug. It takes extensive testing of small amounts in fast in-vitro assays. Then, it's on to animals, to humans, tests for side effects. It takes a huge amount of money to develop a new drug and many years of effort.

Drug discovery is a multiple optimization problem, Gund added. The need is to optimize research directions and decisions. To improve drug discovery effectiveness, Merck wanted to develop a discovery information system.

Molecular modelling to derive the best structure is a new way of discovering drugs. However, this method is still in its infancy and drug discovery is still too complicated a process for modelling to be successful frequently. Despite the hopes shown for this method, it is not the be-all and end-all that some claims have made it.

There are other methods to develop new drugs: a new lead in nature; a new lead in sample collection; optimization of a current lead structure; intuition. Gund noted that computer-aided compound selection can dramatically improve the discovery of new leads in sample selection.

And so ended the 76th CSC Conference. Pre-conference doubts about attendance due to the relative isolation of Sherbrooke were clearly dispelled as attendance reached 1,348. The scientific content of the program was also a success. One veteran of many CSC conferences said it was the best program he had seen. This was just one of many compliments heard about the strength of the scientific program and the speakers.

In 1994, the CSC returns west, to Winnipeg, for its 77th conference. See you there!
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Title Annotation:76th Canadian Society for Chemistry Conference and Exhibition
Author:Rodden, Graeme
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:Syntex closes Canadian research division.
Next Article:Should policy concerning basic science be subject to the goals of applied science?

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