Jun 12, 2024

Khadija and the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment by Temerty Medicine graduates Hajer Nakua and Farah Qaiser

Current Students
Farah Qaiser and Hajer Nakua
Book authors Farah Qaiser (L) and Hajer Nakua (R)

Recent Institute of Medical Science PhD graduate Dr. Hajer Nakua has co-authored an inspiring children's picture book called Khadija and the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment, which aims to inspire all kids to see themselves in science. Hajer shares some details about her graduate research, what inspired her to create the book, and how it came to fruition. 

What did your PhD research focus on?

I specialized in clinical neuroscience, under the supervision of Dr. Stephanie Ameis at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I studied the relationships between brain development and mental health symptoms in childhood. I will be starting my post-doctoral research at Columbia University expanding my research towards understanding environmental factors that influence brain and mental health symptom development. 

Khadija and the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment

What is Khadija and the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment about?

A young girl named Khadija is inspired by her visit to a science fair. There are many different scientists all wearing safety goggles and lab coats, and she wonders why none of them are wearing a hijab. After watching a scientist carry out the elephant toothpaste experiment, Khadija attempts to recreate it at home with mixed (and messy!) results. The experiment is based on a fun chemical reaction that creates a colourful tube of foam that rises and spills over the container, all done using simple household ingredients. The experience inspires Khadija to tell her family that, "When I grow up, I'm going to be a scientist!" 

What inspired you to write the book?

It’s hard to be what you can’t see — that’s why Farah and I wrote Khadija and the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment. I was drawn to write Khadija’s story so that young children, especially those from underrepresented groups, will be inspired to explore their scientific curiosities. Children have an innate curiosity about the world that is often stifled over time. We hope that Khadija’s story allows children to maintain that curiosity throughout their life. We also hope that Khadija’s story will inspire parents to support the curiosities of their children so they can build the confidence to explore science.

How did you and the book's co-author, Farah Qaiser, connect?

Farah and I met on the GO Train in 2019 while travelling back to Mississauga from the University of Toronto's downtown campus. At the time, she was doing her Master's degree in the Department of Molecular Genetic at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine. I had limited time to pray the 3rd daily prayer Muslims complete, and was happy to find a fellow Muslim woman that understood my situation. After praying, we chatted until we arrived at our stop and have been friends ever since!