2013 MAGNET Workshop hailed a success!

The 1st Annual MAGNET Training Workshop was held at UBC in Vancouver on October 7-11, 2013 [click here for the detailed programme].  We had an outstanding group of motivated and inquisitive participants from McGill, UQAC, University of Toronto, UBC, SFU, University of Oregon, and Queens College (NY).  The whole week worked beyond our expectations.  The buzz started on the first day, and kept growing throughout the week.

Over 30 students, fellows, faculty and staff attended the opening day of the workshop.  To break the ice, we opened the workshop with a welcome breakfast, introductions, and an activity: drawing a multi-collector inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometer (MC-ICP-MS).  It was a very engaging experience, with participants from different universities working together in teams of 4.  Everyone tackled the challenge with enthusiasm, even those with little or no prior experience with this type of instrument.

The first two days of the workshop were devoted to lectures by speakers from both the academic and industrial worlds (SFU, UBC, University of Illinois, Nu Instruments).  Topics focused on the theory, principles and pitfalls of different techniques including mass spectrometry, laser ablation and geochronology.  There were also key talks on the applications of geochemical techniques in oceanography, hydrology, and forensic anthropology, which included fascinating case studies.  For example, participants learned how noble gases were used as transport and partitioning tracers at a crude oil spill site, and how stable isotopes in bones and teeth shed light on the diet and geographic origin of the infamous Arctic outlaw known as the “Mad Trapper.”

Activities were interspersed with the lectures, which provided a change of pace, an opportunity to learn more about a particular topic, and also for participants to interact with each other.  One activity had the participants use M&M’s to learn about stable isotope systematics.  Another had them perform calculations to understand what goes on inside a mass spectrometer.

The practical training of the workshop was dedicated to an in-depth focus on the Nu 1700 MC-ICP-MS.  One of the lead engineers from Nu Instruments explained the design and performance of this state-of-the-art instrument, which is unique in Canada (and fifth worldwide). In the lab alongside the instrument, participants were taken step-by-step through the features and functions of the Nu 1700, from source to collector. There were a lot of thoughtful questions and discussions with the engineer.

At the end of the second day, we repeated the opening activity with some added layers of difficulty (i.e., drawing an MC-ICP-MS, with its various components, advantages and limitations).  The increase in accuracy, detail and speed with which the groups completed the activity was remarkable.  In fact, participants even surprised themselves at how much they had learned in a short time.  Periodic table themed prizes were awarded for the most complete drawing, as well as for the most improved group.

This was followed by an industry networking reception, held in the Pacific Museum of the Earth, complete with hors d’oeuvres and refreshments. Numerous representatives from Teck Resources, AngloAmerican, Lorax Environmental, and Nu Instruments attended.  Trainees had the opportunity to introduce themselves, followed by valuable interactions and discussions with the representatives.  It was an enjoyable reception that set the stage for future collaborations and internships, some which have already started to take shape in the weeks since.

For the remainder of the week, trainees participated in an Instructional Skills Workshop, led by two trained facilitators in collaboration with the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative, which takes an evidence-based approach to improve science education.  Participants learned about the theory and practice of teaching, the selection and writing of useful learning objectives with accompanying lesson plans, techniques for eliciting learner participation, and suggestions for evaluation of learning.  During the 3-day workshop, participants developed and taught two 10-minute lessons and received verbal, written and video feedback from the other participants.  Any initial nerves or apprehension gave way to composure and confidence by the end of the week.

On the final day of the workshop, before heading back to their respective universities, participants and instructors met for one last social gathering to unwind after the demanding, yet fun and inspiring week.  This first workshop was an important milestone for the MAGNET program, and helped create new and stronger bonds within this national network.  We would like to thank everyone who participated and contributed to making this workshop a wild success.  We look forward to future MAGNET activities – stay tuned!