Her Story: Canadian Women Scientists

About the project

How many Canadian scientists and their achievements can you name?

How about Canadian women scientists who have made tremendous contributions to science?

Her Story: Canadian Women Scientists is a film series dedicated to sharing the stories of Canadian women scientists. Facilitated by Curiosity Collider, local filmmakers and Canadian women scientists collaborate to create 5-6 minute videos; for each film in the series, a scientist tells her own story, interwoven with the story of an inspiring Canadian women scientist who came before her in her field of study. Each short film features a mixture of live action, animation, and narration.

This project was developed by Curiosity Collider to address the lack of storytelling videos showcasing these remarkable individuals and their work available via popular online platforms. Both the practice of science and the skill of learning are intrinsically valuable, but are not always seen as accessible. This is where art plays a key role. By combining art and science, we enrich the scientific concepts discussed, and we add a relatable human element to the work. Arts engagement increases brain plasticity, critical thinking, and empathy, all necessary qualities for the advancement of science as well as society.

Canadian women discover, create, and drive amazing advances in our scientific development. They deserve public recognition. Aspiring young scientists need access to a complete history that acknowledges Canadian womens’ significant contributions to science. We plan for this series to be an ongoing effort to introduce the work and life of more Canadian women scientists in the future.

The 2019 series is curated by Larissa Blokhuis.

2019 Teams

Leslie Kennah and Kimberly Girling

Mapping the Mind (2019): Over the last century, Canadian women have greatly contributed to the field of neuroscience. In this short film, Dr. Kimberly Girling shares her curiosity about the human brain, its connection to identity, memory and the impacts on our overall health. As a contemporary neuroscientist, Girling pays homage to the groundbreaking scientist Brenda Milner, now 101 years old, who’s work in neuropsychology paved the way for our current understanding of the human mind. At once a celebration of fascinating science and great minds, “Mapping the Mind” asks us to examine what makes us who we are and hopes to inspire other women to join in the exploration of the human brain

Leslie has been exploring life through a lens for over a decade. Born and raised in Vancouver, BC, she studied photography at Emily Carr University. Her love of photography naturally evolved to encompass digital media, filmmaking and animation. Passionate about crafting evocative imagery with impactful messages, Leslie started Rhizome Media, a documentary focused video production company. Six years at the helm of Rhizome have honed her skills as a visual storyteller. Beyond her client projects, Leslie is interested in exploring the intersection of art making and activism, dance and film, VR/360 video and underwater cinematography. Her personal projects have been screened in galleries and at festivals throughout Canada, Europe, the US and Japan. 

Embracing the rich experience of interdisciplinary collaboration, Leslie has made work with sound engineers, choreographers, dancers, environmental activists and scientists.  

Keen to collaborate on projects that contribute positively to the cultural landscape, the opportunity to work with neuroscientist Kimberly Girling, PhD on a film project about Canadian women in science is an exciting one. Eager to challenge her filmmaking methods and strengthen her storytelling toolkit, Leslie is grateful to have been selected for this Curiosity Collider project. 

Beyond her film production, Leslie also teaches Cinematography, Photography and Video Production at various institutions in Vancouver. As a digital media specialist and educator, she is passionate about sharing her love of visual culture and empowering others with the skills to tell their own stories. 

Kimberly Girling started her career as a scientist, earning a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia where she developed novel therapeutics for Huntington’s Disease, a neurodegenerative illness. During her work in science, she learned that good science must move beyond the bench, linking evidence to effective policies and accessible products. To this end, Kimberly developed a passion for science policy, leading her to work on a number of initiatives relating to health and drug policy, including work with the UBC Neglected Global Diseases Initiative, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.

In 2016, Kimberly was a member of the inaugural cohort of the Mitacs Canadian Science Policy Fellowship. She completed her fellowship with Defence Research and Development Canada, where she developed a new framework to identify ethical and policy barriers to the use of emerging technologies for human enhancement in the military. She has also worked as a policy analyst at Innovation, Science and Economic Development. As of January 2019, Kimberly is the Research and Policy Director at Evidence for Democracy, an Ottawa-based non-profit that promotes the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making.

Lucas Kavanagh, Jesse Lupini, and Jessica Pilarczyk

Ground Swell (2019): On December 26th, 2004 the world was shocked as a massive tsunami swept across the Indian Ocean, killing over a quarter of a million people. There was nothing like it in recent memory or historical records. 

Jessica Pilarczyk is a coastal scientist, but she describes herself as more of a detective. By examining microscopic fossils of some of the smallest creatures in the sea, she finds evidence of ancient tsunamis. This allows her to warn people about where the next one might strike. Her journey to becoming a forensic earth scientist began with high school science fairs, and one mentor who took a particular interest in her. Jeanne Percival, a geologist with the government of Canada, guided the young Jessica in a project that used clays to help seal landfills. Jessica’s story is an illustration of how inspiration and mentorship at a young age can set someone on a lifelong path of discovery. A path which has helped countless people by allowing them to plan for the worst case scenario: a tsunami. 

Avocado Video is a full-service creative agency and documentary production company, providing research, writing, video production, animation, and interactive development services. We specialize in taking complex concepts and finding creative ways to make them easily understandable by your target audience.

Lucas Kavanagh (twitter: @LucasKavanagh)

Lucas is an oceanographer turned documentary producer, specializing in communicating complex concepts in clear, engaging ways. His past projects include science podcasts and explainer web videos covering a wide range of topics from cancer research, to ocean exploration, nutrition, politics, and coffee.

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Jesse Lupini (twitter: @jesselupini)

Jesse is a director and producer who loves telling stories about almost anything that piques his interest, especially science, politics, and social issues. He has directed several award-winning short films, music videos and commercials, produced a popular weekly science podcast, and helped create several viral videos about BC politics.

Dr. Jessica Pilarczyk is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Simon Fraser University (SFU) and member of the Centre for Natural Hazards Research.  As a kid, Jessica was fascinated by Earth’s processes and loved to be outdoors.  As an adult, Jessica found a career where she investigates Earth’s processes and spends time outdoors, not only in her home province of British Columbia, but in places such as rice fields in Japan, cow pastures in New Zealand, caves in Sumatra, lagoons in Oman, and beaches in Polynesia. 

Jessica’s research at SFU focuses on how extreme events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and storms, impact coastlines around the world.  Through geological investigations, she extends the short-term instrumental record by centuries to millennia, enhancing our ability to forecast how coastal systems will respond to extreme events in the future.  Together with colleagues and students, Jessica has discovered geologic evidence for prehistoric earthquakes and tsunamis that impacted coastlines facing the Japan Trench, the Makran Subduction Zone, and the Sunda Trench.   Now that she has joined the Faculty at SFU, Jessica plans to apply her knowledge of subduction zones around the world to the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the west coast of Vancouver Island.  She aims to resolve how often tsunamis have impacted Vancouver Island in the past and what impacts we can expect from future events. 

When Jessica is not tsunami hunting, she can often be found exploring British Columbia’s beautiful wilderness with her dog Ruby.  

Michael Markowsky and Jade Shiller

Making Waves (2019): An animated inter-generational story of two marine biologists whose research is shedding new light onto the mysteries of our oceans — and how the earth’s warming waters will ultimately jeopardize our own lives here on land. When an octopus wrapped itself around her arm one day at the beach, Jade Shiller found her passion in life. But in a field dominated by men, there were few role models to look up to. So when Jade discovered the groundbreaking fieldwork of Dr. Kathleen Conlan, she knew her dream was possible. Together they are on a mission to bring awareness to the wonders beneath the waves, and to encourage girls and young women to pursue their own careers in science. 

Michael Markowsky is an award-winning artist and writer who makes drawings, paintings and books about the landscapes and people he meets while travelling around the world. As an official Canadian “War Artist,” he made drawings in an F-18 “Hornet” fighter jet while flying faster than the speed of sound, and was the first person to make a painting while standing at the North Pole. 

Michael was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. He attended art school at ACAD (Calgary), Royal College (London, UK), Cooper Union (New York City) and Art Center (Los Angeles) where he received his MFA. He has exhibited his work in galleries and museums in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Montreal, etc and is in the collections of hundreds of prominent private citizens, businesses and public institutions. Among the artists he’s exhibited with are Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, William S. Burroughs and Ken Lum. 

He teaches drawing at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, BC, Canada. 

People often refer to big mammals (whales, lions, rhinoceros) as “charismatic megafauna.” I sometimes joke that I work on “uncharismatic microfauna.” I study bacteria in the ocean. I currently work in a microbiology lab at the University of British Columbia here in Vancouver. My lab studies bacteria in the oceans to learn about these fascinating organisms, the ecosystems they live in, and about climate change. I work on research ships to collect samples and then bring them back to the lab to extract the bacterial DNA. By studying bacteria’s DNA, we can learn about what’s happening in the ocean. As our climate continues to change, areas that have low oxygen levels are expanding. By studying these areas, we can better understand what is happening in our oceans and how that will impact us on land.

I also share my love of the ocean and the natural world by volunteering with environmental education programs. I love working with students, helping them learn about (and touch!) some of the marine invertebrates that live around Vancouver. They’re really excited and I get to geek about about all the cool marine life that’s on our doorstep!

In my free time, I bike, play ultimate frisbee, and scuba dive around our beautiful city.

Armin Mortazavi and Samantha Baglot

Irene Uchida (2019): Feisty, caring and perseverant – Irene Uchida was one of the most successful women in the field of genetics. Neuroscientist Sam Baglot takes us through the journey of Irene’s life, and relates it to the struggles and achievement in her own career … animated with the cartoons of Armin Mortazavi. 

Armin is a science cartoonist living in Vancouver. He obtained his Bachelor’s in Microbiology & Immunology from UBC and a Master of Digital Media from the Centre for Digital Media (CDM). Throughout the years, he has carved out a career in creating illustrations and design work to educate the public about health. He is currently creating interactive online courses for physicians and primary care providers. His past work includes an interactive graphic novel about health and wellness for the BC curriculum, SciCATS, and more.  

Samantha completed a Master’s degree in Neuroscience from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in April 2018. Currently, Samantha is completing a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Calgary (UofC). Broadly, her research focuses on the effects of prenatal cannabis exposure. Sam is extremely passionate about science advocacy and outreach. During her time at UBC, she was the Vice President of Outreach for the Neuroscience Graduate Student Association, was a volunteer with the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health, and was a teaching assistant. Since moving to UofC, she has been involved as a Scholarship Mentor, a volunteer at the Calgary Brain Bee, is on the organizing team for NeuroNexus, and recently became the Co-Director of Outreach for the Hotchkiss Brain Institute Trainee Organization. Further, for the past two years Samantha has been the lead project organizer for Neurohistory Cartoons, an online interactive timeline that represents the history of neuroscience through the wonderful world of cartoon imagery. Samantha is a recipient of many research fellowships and awards, including the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. Outside of research and science outreach, Sam is a second-degree Black Belt in Karate and enjoys cycling, hiking, and skiing. 

Twitter: @s_baglot  

2019 Premiere Events

Events for Her Story were hosted at the Annex (Vancouver Civic Theatres), 823 Seymour St, Vancouver, BC.

Film screening and talk back

Friday the 13th of September (Doors at 6pm, screening at 7pm). This screening was followed by a talkback with the production team, including the collaborating filmmakers and scientists.

Film screening and panel discussion

Saturday the 14th of September (Doors at 2pm, screening at 3pm). This screening was followed by a panel discussion, with a focus on the contributions of women in science, as well as representations of women in science and culture. Panelists include:

  • Dr. Jackie Stewart, Senior Instructor (UBC Chemistry) 
  • Theresa Liao, Communications Coordinator (UBC Physics & Astronomy), Community Relations Director (Curiosity Collider)
  • Heidi Taylor, Artistic and Executive Director (Playwrights Theatre Centre) 
  • Dr. Lacey Samuels, Professor (UBC Botany)

We acknowledge that Her Story events take place on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil- Waututh) Nations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live and work on this land.

Event venue is sponsored by:

This project is supported by

Would you like to support future films and events?

Contact our Development Director Julia Amerongen Maddison julia@curiositycollider.org for more information.