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Smart People: Dr. Jennifer Gardy leverages logical intelligence

In our Smart People series, we take a closer look at the six categories that make up the theory of multiple intelligences. Each week, we'll introduce you to some clever Canadians who exemplify each of the intelligences in their careers and daily lives — they'll tell us how they draw on those strengths to do what they do best.

When it comes to science, Dr. Jennifer Gardy says it takes more than just experimenting to get results.

The scientist and television host has a unique approach to understanding complex and abstract ideas, and then demystifying those concepts to a general audience. So we pick the brain of the assistant professor at University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine, to help us put logical intelligence under the microscope.

"A good scientist isn’t just someone who can develop and test a hypothesis, it’s also someone who can think creatively — bringing ideas and methods from different disciplines together,” Dr. Gardy says.

She identifies herself as a “good collaborator” who also frequently taps into her visual and linguistic intelligences when communicating her work. “I’m able to tell a good story that’s packaged with beautiful visuals,” she says.

Dr. Gardy has shared many of those stories through her work with the CBC. She is well known for guest hosting several episodes of the long-running nature documentary series The Nature of Things since 2010, including the popular "Myth or Science" episodes. In one of her experiments, she finds out more about the science behind “head heat” by getting dunked in 14-degree Celcius water.

• Read more: Smart People: Artist Julie Morstad’s visual acumen is picture-perfect »


VIDEO: Dr. Jennifer Gardy gets dunked in 14-degree Celcius water to discover whether you lose most of your heat through your head on The Nature of Things.

Off-screen, Dr. Gardy’s work spans such key areas as microbiology, evolution, and computer science. She is an expert in the new field of "genomic epidemiology," the study of the role of genetic factors in determining health and disease in families. Dr. Gardy's lab at the BC Centre for Disease Control uses DNA sequencing to understand how infectious disease spreads in the population.

Making sense of science

She notes that logical thinkers thrive in the sciences, since science is all about following a process that leads to discovery. So even when that discovery leads to a hypothesis that ends up falling through, she sees it as opportunity to formulate something new.

“The other week I had some interesting data I was looking at, and I noticed an unusual pattern,” she recalls. “When I un-blinded the data labels to reveal the result, I found that I was totally wrong, but I spotted a pattern in how I was wrong! Based on that pattern, I developed a new hypothesis and am testing that now.”

Outside of the lab or the classroom, Dr. Gardy still finds herself leaning heavily on logical thinking, whether she's hitting the courts for a game of tennis or heading for a hike in B.C.'s stunning landscape. Even while hiking, her logical brain is highly active and comes in handy.

"I’m a scientist because I’m insatiably curious — I need to know why and how things work."

- Dr. Jennifer Gardy, on her passion for science

"One of my favourite things to do is look for edible mushrooms in the local woods," she enthuses. "Mushroom hunting is like a grown-up version of easter-egg hunting, but it has a huge logical component to it — by looking at combinations of features of a mushroom, you can deduce whether it’s delicious, whether it’s edible but boring, whether it’s slightly bad news, or whether it’s deadly."

Dr. Gardy has explained that her enthusiasm for science started at a young age. It could explain why she’s deeply involved with cultivating that same kind of curiosity for answers in children. She has written a children's book about germs and microbes for OWLKids Books and sits on the advisory board for kids' science magazine OWL.

"I’m a scientist because I’m insatiably curious — I need to know why and how things work — and to satisfy that desire, I have to be able to come up with hypotheses and design experiments to test them. That’s the heart of the scientific method,” Dr. Gardy says.

• Read more: Smart People: Writer Kyo Maclear has a way with words »


VIDEO: Dr. Jennifer Gardy describes discovering her passion for science as a teenager, a path that led to her career as an epidemiologist.

Sounds like Dr. Gardy could readily tackle the logical challenges on Canada’s Smartest Person, but what about Moving Sum, where one has to read a math problem on screen and submit the correct answer as quickly as possible?

“Oh, I have pretty good mental math skills,” Dr. Gardy counters, “honed by being the person my friends would always turn to when it came time to split the bill at a restaurant!”

Consider yourself highly logical? Try your hand at the brain-testing challenges on the Canada's Smartest Person interactive app by playing along with Sunday's show or the bonus daily challenges! The best part? Games that test aspects of intelligence, like memory and attention, help fine-tune your logical smarts (win-win situation!).