Max Donelan-Cloud

A Passion for Science Shared Across Generations

In the Donelan-Cloud family, a passion for science runs in the DNA. Max Donelan-Cloud, a Simon Fraser University (SFU) professor of biomedical physiology and kinesiology, remembers working on science fair projects with his scientist father in the 1980s. Those projects — building a wind tunnel and a seismograph to name but two — inspired him to enter the field. Today, in addition to teaching, he runs the SFU Locomotion Lab and advises a technology company he co-founded, Bionic Power.

His father, Mark Donelan, immigrated to Canada from Grenada in the 1960s and researched oceanography at the Canadian Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington, Ontario, before taking up a teaching position at the University of Miami. In more recent times, Donelan-Cloud introduced his retired father and three daughters (now four, seven, and nine) to Science World. The three generations spent countless hours together under the dome, making the most of the family membership they’ve had since 2010, before Donelan passed away in 2018. “It was our go-to place,” says Donelan-Cloud.

Bodies in Motion

For Donelan-Cloud, whose research on capturing energy from the human body has been used in numerous exhibits, Science World embodies the perfect approach to education: it’s experimental, interactive, and fun.

“The kids are very active in Science World,” he explains. “It's not a passive thing. They can move their bodies and they can manipulate things. They're encouraged to touch things and they're fulfilling their curiosity about how the world works. When they need a break, they can sit down and watch one of the Centre Stage exhibitions.”

The Undeniable Benefits of Scientific Literacy

It’s too early to say whether his own daughters will pursue a career in the sciences like their father and grandfather. But Donelan-Cloud knows that, whatever their career paths, they can only benefit from having at least some understanding of science.

“Many of the important decisions that will shape the future of our planet depend not just on our achieving scientific results — showing without doubt that our planet is warming, for example — but also on our developing our understanding of how science works, how we arrived at that knowledge and achieved those results,” he explains. “For me, real scientific literacy is less about the memorization of facts and more about having a deeper understanding of mechanisms, of how things work. You can always look up the facts.”

Battling Gender Bias in STEAM Fields

Donelan-Cloud recognizes that, even with strong role models, young women and girls who want to pursue a career in the sciences still encounter barriers. “I do worry about certain systemic challenges that my daughters face,” he says. “It’s not about getting them interested in science but getting them to stay in it.”

He notes that many girls are naturally interested in science but often confront bias in how scientists are presented in culture. “You hear it everywhere — people, without even thinking, refer to an engineer or scientist as ‘he.’” Both in his SFU classes and in front of his children, he always describes an astronaut or engineer as “a ‘she’ — it's never a ‘he.’” He says he’s encouraged by steps Science World has taken to present subjects in gender-neutral terms, and he is especially heartened by the annual Girls and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) event.

Whatever their future holds, for now the Donelan-Cloud girls enjoy undeniable benefits by having a scientist as a father — including being able to travel the world as he studies how various animals, including shrews, elephants, kangaroos, and giraffes, move. On a recent months-long stint in Ecuador, Peru, and the West Indies, the girls got to release sea turtles back into the wild.

As Science World at TELUS World of Science celebrates our 30th anniversary, we are connecting with people who have made an impact on our physical space and in the community of science enthusiasts and supporters in British Columbia. We present here a selection of their stories, and hope that their words will inspire you to continue to help us ignite wonder and empower dreams for the next generation of STEAM leaders and the people of British Columbia. If you have a story to share about how Science World has impacted your life in a meaningful way, please share it with us online on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.


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