The U of T Science Rendezvous festival took place this past weekend on St. George Street. Traffic was closed between College and Harbord Streets on Saturday as representatives from faculties, programs, and research initiatives at the university displayed in tents along the street and surrounding science buildings opened many of their labs to pedestrians.
Inside McLennan Physical Laboratories, U of T students presented optics demonstrations to passersby with Mozart playing loudly in the background. The musical information was transmitted by a laser beam as part of a telecommunications demonstration. Professor Emanuel Istrate, Academic Program Coordinator of the Impact Centre, organized this presentation.
“It’s a celebration of science,” Istrate said of the festival, “It’s the event that gets the public to understand what the university is about. We have a lot of researchers working, doing very high-end stuff, but very few people know what this is about. Who is doing the work? What work is being done? It seems like a bit of magic, and we’re trying to uncover a bit of this magic.”
U of T chemist Dwayne Miller started Science Rendezvous, a nationwide festival now in its seventh year, when he was the director of the Institute for Optical Sciences. Miller’s vision was to create an event that would allow scientists from every discipline to present their interests to the Canadian public. The festival has since spread to almost every province and territory.
Istrate adds, “We all know that science is important. Science has given us so much – telephones, Internet, all the medical technologies, and many things that are less obvious. And yet the public seems a bit disconnected… Until now, there hasn’t been a culture of keeping the public informed about science. Scientists do their thing, and the public is supposed to trust what the scientists are doing. Information is the first step in building this trust. Don’t just trust us, but come and see what we’re doing, and then you can make a more informed decision when it comes time to vote, or when it comes time to accept a product, and so on.”
The University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) held a Science Rendezvous event at the Toronto Zoo, as did Ryerson University in Dundas Square. Celebrations also took place at the Ontario Science Centre and at numerous Toronto Public Library branches.
Emma Hansen is a volunteer for Science Rendezvous and a former student of Emanuel Istrate.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.