Publishing Science

Promising Inspiration

by Kate Lushington

Canadian Young Scientist Journal, launched this spring in Toronto, offers a unique forum for original research by high school students and promises to inspire a new generation of science innovators.


The effect of holes on the wing design of airplanes, the use of bubbles as a mathematical model to measure the distance between cities, a simple device to solve the environmental challenge of lighting school classrooms – these are the topics in the first issue of the Canadian Young Scientist (CYS) Journal.

It is the brainchild of science teacher Sacha Noukhovitch of Northview Heights Secondary School in North York. An innovative, multidisciplinary science publication by and for high school science students, the journal features articles on original research that have been reviewed by qualified experts in their fields.

A few years ago, when he tried and failed to get a student’s original work published in some of Canada’s established science publications, Noukhovitch discovered a missing link. The journals restricted themselves to the publication of university-level research. He approached the National Research Council Press, where staff suggested he start his own journal to build a community of author-scientists at the high school level. Noukhovitch saw the prospect as a unique and challenging dream. With an abiding faith in the abilities of students, a personal passion for science and a love of research, he set out to bring the dream to fruition.

First, he set up a web site, spoke with colleagues, brought together students with ideas and began developing manuscripts. It was time-consuming and frustrating.

“I started at the wrong end,” he jokes. “The right end would have been to start with money.”

By the time he had three original articles ready – in math, physics and environmental science – and had persuaded three qualified professionals to review them, he realized he had no way to print or distribute the journal.

Enter a supportive principal, Sandra Tondat, who brought Toronto DSB superintendent Gen Ling Chang on board. A mathematician by training, Chang came up with the funds needed to print 500 copies of the first issue this May. A hundred copies will be distributed to schools in the Toronto DSB, others will be sent to key people in postsecondary institutions and neighbouring school boards, and the rest will be available for purchase.

Tondat explains that the journal’s aim reaches beyond the school and its students.

“The aim is to promote scientific thinking and research in young minds and to encourage them to carry on as scientists. The plan is to publish two or three issues a year, building a collection of student work.

“It’s an opportunity for students to create their own scientific community, to share knowledge and ideas with one another.”

Chang adds, “We are keen to make it bigger, not just between our family of schools.” She is an eloquent advocate for the new journal and is convinced of its potential to not only support and encourage students, but to offer teachers the chance to exchange ideas and develop their capacity to network.

The next level

Noukhovitch points to how CYS Journal can take student work beyond the traditional opportunities offered by science fairs. The tradition of peer-reviewed publications requires original research, a rigorous standard of proof and an ability to communicate effectively through language. He has used his own professional connections (he was originally an electrical engineer) to persuade busy academics and working scientists to contribute written reviews of student work. Students rework their submissions in response to the critiques.

“Having a peer-reviewed journal for high school students is an amazing concept,” says Chang. “Looking at students and adult scientists as peers in scientific inquiry creates a real-world partnership.” Students take themselves more seriously as a result.

Reviewers listed for the inaugural issue include a prize-winning PhD math candidate from Princeton, an engineering professor from York University and an engineer and manager at the Toronto Transit Commission. The Ontario Genomics Institute has agreed to review future submissions in the life sciences.

“It’s an opportunity for students to create their own scientific community, to share knowledge and ideas with one another.”

Noukhovitch sees teachers as the first line of peer review, as they recognize original work and help students prepare manuscripts for the journal. “Teachers are not just marking, they are giving scientific guidance,” he says. “It’s a chance for students to get a feeling for science, an opening, a door.”

In preparing for publication, teachers need to help students learn how to express their ideas effectively in writing, a skill that is not commonly taught in a project-based approach to science.

Daniel Muttiah, a fellow teacher at Northview Heights, helped his student prepare the report in the current issue on the effects of holes in the design of airplane wings.

“As a physics teacher and mechanical engineer, I was very impressed,” writes Muttiah. “This was original thinking, and it was interesting and at a level fit for students to read about. I saw the benefits of having a publication to present such ideas.”

Muttiah has also contributed a curriculum activity to the journal’s web site, focusing on manuscript writing for scientific papers.

“When science students write towards publication, they discover the power of writing,” says Chang. “When you write down what you know, it’s quite different from just knowing it. The writing itself is knowledge construction. It clarifies your thinking and deepens your understanding.”

Skills and connections

The educational potential of the journal is not limited to those who are planning careers in science or who are themselves original thinkers. The publication of a journal requires many skills and provides invaluable experience. First, there is a team approach. Northview Heights students have already taken ownership of the CYS Journal web site, constructing and managing it with the help of communications technology teacher Martin Gordon.

The journal’s editorial board consists entirely of students. They take care of proofreading, technical editing, media relations and illustrations, and they respond to e-mail inquiries.


The journal is the brainchild of Sacha Noukhovitch.

“We have brilliant students,” says Noukhovitch proudly. “About five or six are involved on a daily basis, and others join in for specific tasks. Our school is in an area with many first-generation immigrants. For the majority of students, English is not their mother tongue – but they are the future intellectual elite of this country.”

In fact, all three articles in the first issue of CYS Journal are by students writing in their second language. The student who wrote about the math properties of bubbles spoke no English when he arrived in Canada two years ago.

As Noukhovitch points out, “Faroukh had help with the editing, but he was completely involved in the choice of words. Manuscript writing is a challenge to ESL students, but when they really want to express their ideas, they are highly motivated and they work twice as hard.”

Lessons learned

Chang sees the journal as offering lessons beyond the experience of direct participants.

“We do not give enough credit to the cognitive powers, capacity and abilities of many ESL learners,” she says. “The achievement of the ESL students who have articles in CYS Journal challenges our assumptions as teachers, principals and superintendents. And it mirrors possibilities for other ESL students to construct meaning through written language, because the support is there.”

CYS Journal not only fills a niche in the area of youth publication, peer review and manuscript writing, it offers a unique multidisciplinary approach to science publishing itself. Other scientific journals cover only one field – such is the nature of the peer-review process in our specialized age.

Noukhovitch believes that specialization is no longer the best paradigm. He points out that innovation happens nowadays on the border between specialties. And this is particularly appropriate for high school scientists.

“The potential for networking among science teachers goes beyond my family of schools.”

At this stage in the development of inquiring minds, “It is common for students to jump from one field to another,” he points out. “They are capable of being Renaissance scientists.”

He sees the journal as a way to encourage the cross-fertilization of ideas and perspectives at an early age, eventually developing a new generation of cutting-edge Canadian thinkers – with the help, of course, of their teachers.

“Teachers must realize that they are the key to the future of Canadian scientists. We have the means to make a difference, to direct students at the right time.”

Chang agrees, but not only for the sake of the students and the greater good of society. She also sees the Canadian Young Scientist Journal as a vital new opportunity for teachers. “It is a vehicle to build teachers’ capacities and nurture a professional learning community. The potential for networking among science teachers goes beyond my family of schools. Gerry Connelly, Director of Education at the Toronto DSB, has contributed a foreword to the first issue and I look forward to other boards participating in the future.”

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