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Dr. Jaymie Matthews receives the CWSF Alumni Award

sam, 2015-05-16 08:27 -- Jessie MacAlpine

Youth Science Canada congratulates the 2015 CWSF Alumni Award winner Dr. Jaymie Matthews. His inspiring speech is posted below. 

"My first Canada-Wide Science Fair was in Sarnia in 1972. 74 km from my home town of Chatham, Ontario. 74 km! You’d think I’d have been disappointed that – for an event whose title contains “Canada-Wide” where Canada is really wide… 9,306 km wide, to be exact, from Cape Spear in Newfoundland and Labrador to Mount Saint Elias in the Yukon Territory – I had travelled barely 0.8 percent of the Canada-Wide span.

But the fact that I was only 74 km from home was furthest from my mind. I felt like I was 74,000 km from home. 74,000 light years! I was way over the Moon and out of this world.

Anybody here from Chipman, only 77 km from Fredericton, or my hometown namesake, Chatham Miramichi, 182 km from here, knows exactly what I mean.

The Canada-Wide Science Fair is held in a place, but it transforms that place for the participants, and becomes its own place, unique in space and time. That was true for me in 1972 at my first Fair, and it was just as true in 1975 for my last, in Jonquiere, Québec. My last as a participant, that is. I’ve been lucky to keep my connection to Canada-Wide Science Fairs as a judge, as a member of the Board of Youth Science Canada, and today, as an Alumni Award winner. It’s just as magical to me as it was 46 years ago.

“Magical” might seem an exaggeration. But I’m just evoking Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law, which he wrote the year after my first Canada-Wide experience, in 1973: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” You are at the cutting edge of science and technology, and sometimes it feels to me like magic.

The Canada-Wide Science Fair can have magical healing powers. When I was at the 2013 Fair in Lethbridge, Alberta, fresh from a meeting of the Kepler satellite team at a NASA centre in California, I learned that a second reaction wheel on the satellite had just failed, ending Kepler’s original planet-hunting mission. As part of the Kepler Executive Council, as a planet-hunting astronomer, as a grown-up kid who was seeing science overtake science fiction, this was a devastating blow. But being at a Canada-Wide Science Fair cushioned the blow. The energy and the enthusiasm, the innovation and the imagination. What science is all about. What life is all about, if you think about it.

Science is about discovery. Some of you, in your research projects, have made discoveries that nobody knew before. All of you have made discoveries, discovering things you never knew before. That you would have never known had you not become scientists. And make no mistake about this… you are all already scientists.

Those personal discoveries are just as important as the ‘first-ever-in-the-world’ ones. They are what make the latter possible. More importantly, you are making it possible for others to make those personal discoveries.

Every person who looks at your exhibit, who asks you a question, or reads about your work on Twitter… they’re all discovering things they never knew before. When the Fair Exhibit Hall is open to the public, it’s an explosion of discoveries. People who had never thought about science discovering new ideas, ideas that make them realise that science is worth thinking about in their own lives.

Those are the discoveries that have the biggest impacts in our society, and you are making those discoveries possible.

I’m one of the people you’re teaching. At this Fair, I’ve had more moments than I can count – (and I’m a rocket scientist, used to really big numbers) – where I’ve looked at an exhibit and tweeted in my head WTF! (which stands for “Wow! That’s Fantastic!”), and then WDITOT? (“Why Didn’t I Think Of That?”)

I’m proud of many things and many people in my life, but I’m particularly proud to receive this honour: the Canada-Wide Science Fair Alumni Award. The real honour is to be a member of the same ‘club’ to which you all belong. A club of virtual time travellers, where the past is a foundation for building new knowledge and reflecting on old friendships. Where the future isn’t an abstract concept. It’s a tangible time and place, entered through hundreds of portals that look to the untrained eye like uniform triangular prisms, the official geometry of the wooden frame of a Canada-Wide Science Fair exhibit.

Those are the prisms through which illumination flows. It enters your prism as one simple question and emerges from it refracted into a very broad spectrum of information, of understanding, of fun, and of many, many more questions.

After all, if we ran out of questions, then none of us would be here. I’d be out of a job, and the only question you’d have is: “Who wants to buy a slightly used wooden uniform triangular prism?”

Thank you all very much. Getting to share this experience with you is the real prize."


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