Danica Levesque has spent her four undergraduate years at Laurentian University working on a scientific paper that examines DNA extraction protocols in an accessible way.
It’s not a traditional kind of paper – her supervisor, Laurentian University professor Thomas Merritt, says its purpose is to serve as a teaching tool, introducing budding scientists to the world of DNA through common, everyday items you may find around your kitchen, like strawberries, bananas or even human spit.
Levesque’s paper was finally published two weeks ago, and with the collaboration of 23 co-authors from eight different universities throughout the world, its materials have been translated in 10 different languages.
Multilingualism is very important to Levesque, whose mother tongue is French.
She had to start doing her academic work in English in 2021 after her Sudbury university filed for creditor protection and cut dozens of French-language programs, including her own.
“I hadn’t done science in English since high school, and I was nervous to take that first step,” she said.
“For me, it was important to have the resources in the language that make the students the most comfortable.”
Pushing back against the idea that English is the universal language of science
Initially, the idea was to publish the work in both English and French, but as Levesque and Merritt shared their ideas with the team, the list of languages grew to include Arabic, Japanese and Twi, among others.
One of Levesque’s colleagues at the Laurentian University genetics lab is a fluent Twi speaker – a language spoken by over a million people in Ghana.
“He came up to me and said: ‘This is so cool, I rarely get to see my own language in science materials.’
“He was so excited about trying to find the word for enzymes and other field-related words. It was a really sweet moment,” said Levesque.
Although the paper was published less than two weeks ago, Merritt says its materials have already made their way into classrooms across the world, including in Baghdad, Iraq.
“This is a really big deal,” he said.
Accessibility for different age groups and the importance of colour-blind friendly palettes
In addition to the translation work, Levesque made sure to use colour-blind friendly palettes for the diagrams included in the paper.
Passing them through a colour blindness simulator was a quick and easy step that she intends to use in the future.
Levesque also made sure to include French and English videos presenting the content of the paper as a way to make it more engaging for visual learners.
The work includes a “build your own adventure” formula that can be adapted to different age groups, so that the protocols described in the paper can be used by both elementary school students and adult learners.