U of T Professor Dwayne Miller was riding the Berlin underground late one night, exhausted after attending a night-long science festival, when he noticed an elderly woman strike up a conversation with a young punk girl about all the wunderbar things she had seen at the Long Night of Science. Off the train they walked, arm in arm, into the early morning hours to explore the science exhibited in Berlin's streets.
Miller was so moved, he wanted to test if something like this could happen in what he calls a “science-averse” country like Canada. The experiment: Science Rendezvous.
Science Rendezvous is like a Nuit Blanche for the science set – a festival that celebrates the world of science and calls on the public to engage in the scientific process.
“We are a culture that is adept at understanding the artist; we are are not a society that understands the world of the researcher or scientist,” says Rendezvous Director Bill Bobek, explaining this canny outreach approach.
On May 8, scientists will open their lab doors and hit streets, bars, malls, and libraries across the GTA to share their zeal. You are invited to erupt a corn-starch volcano, walk across water in the non-Newtonian pond, or bounce down a giant colon at the MaRs discovery district.
“We are all born scientists,” says Miller, adding that without support this instinct can wither. “To become a scientist, at some stage you need to have a 'can do' experience. If parents see an aptitude for science in their children, they will help nurture it.”
Many of the exhibits certainly appeal to youngsters, but these showcases can help anyone reclaim that childlike wonder at mucking around with science.The excitement gives the festival a kinetic kick for its third year, with dozens of exhibits rolling out across the city. Here's a look at some of the festival highlights.
Play with musical chairs at Ryerson
Researchers at Ryerson's Psychology Department are opening up their lab door and inviting the public to have a seat in their emoti-chair. Initially conceived to help deaf people experience music, the emoti-chair works by turning different pitches into vibrations felt along different parts of your body. You will have the option of being artificially deafened (with white noise) so you can experience music primarily as vibration.
For researcher Frank Russo, the opportunity to interact with the public is key to development. “The public is really, really good at steering our ideas,” Russo says, explaining that feedback from past public events has led his team to consider the emoti-chair as a form of treatment for autism spectrum disorder.
Down the rabbit hole at the Faculty of Pharmacy
The Faculty of Pharmacy is turning their entire building into a maze so you can experience the snags and snarls that researchers themselves encounter when developing new pharmaceuticals. “The process of identifying a drug-able target for a disease and designing a treatment has many barriers, false leads and dead ends in the same way that a maze does,” explains PhD student Jordan Antflick. By maze-end, you will gain insight into that convoluted drug development process.
From the Leslie Dan Pharmacy building, you can weave your way through the science carnival on St. George St., where a variety of U of T labs are setting up shop, or run in the Amazing Science Chase scavenger hunt across U of T's campus.
Grown Up Science Fair
After the science fairgrounds shut down, adults can head to Parkdale's The Rhino for a night of drinking and less-cerebral, more-kinesthetic engagement. Let loose and get bent out of shape over a game of periodic table twister, or marvel at the holographic art that Michael Paige will unveil, or play a game of Transcription Hero, a race against the body's own DNA-transcription process using the Guitar Hero interface.
Ultimately, for Grown Up Science Fair organizer Joe Wilson, science is a very human pursuit. “Despite all the cool technology and tools, when it comes down to it, it's about human to human interaction.”
Consider this your invitation to come meet your inner science geek.