Science Rendezvous Street Festival celebrates intersections between research and art

Festival aims to make science more accessible to the public

Science Rendezvous Street Festival celebrates intersections between research and art

On a cloudy afternoon on May 11, professors, students, parents, and children enjoyed the annual Science Rendezvous street festival at U of T’s St. George campus. The event let them celebrate and learn more about advancements and achievements in research.

The unifying theme of the festival this year was “S.T.E.A.M Big!”, which focused on the intersections between science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM). While art is often seen as separate from STEM disciplines, it is becoming increasingly common in the scientific community to encourage taking inspiration from the arts to drive innovative research.

Street stalls and displays exhibited the relationship between art and science

Displays that exemplified the relationship between art and science included outdoor music and dancing, as well as a visual art gallery inspired by math and science.

The focal points were the stalls and displays lining all of St. George Street. These exhibits presented some of the hottest topics and projects in science today, focusing on big interdisciplinary innovations found at the intersections of these rapidly advancing fields.

Over 80 faculties and community organizations set up exhibits. Highlights included displays of solar-powered cars, rockets, robots, and a wide array of other projects that would fascinate even those who have a passing interest in scientific inquiry.

This wide range and diversity of subjects represented by the participating volunteers brought the 2019 theme of STEAM to vibrant life.

Booths and demonstrations were highlights of the festival

The street festival included over 100 fascinating and interactive booths. Some leaned toward the classic science fair vibe, such as displaying glowing bacteria and allowing patrons to look through a solar telescope. Others opted to take a more creative approach, such as the station inviting attendees to paint with acids, bases, and plant juices.

Some displayed student innovations, such as the demonstration set up by U of T Blue Sky Solar Racing, an undergraduate team that designs, builds, and races solar powered vehicles. There was also a plethora of digital demonstrations interspersed between all the other projects, ranging from virtual reality tours of archeological sites to demos of the many student-made video games.

Street fairs like Science Rendezvous increase engagement with science

One of the goals of the festival was to raise interest in U of T’s science programs, as many high school students attended and participated in the event. An example was the molecular genetics-focused science fair that took place in Bahen Centre for Information Technology.

Besides attracting prospective students, the festival is intended to improve public involvement and investment in STEAM fields. From the number of students competing in the science fair, sporting U of T shirts with palpable excitement on their faces, to the sizeable crowds drawn in by the street festival, it is safe to say that both of these goals were achieved.

A rendezvous is a meeting or an appointment. In a way, St. George Street is a science rendezvous every day, with labs, classes, and seminars running regularly. What was special about this festival was that it took experiences that are often inaccessible and presented them in a way that could appeal to all.

The pretension and exclusivity that often seems to follow research was stripped away, and all that was left was mystery, excitement, and curiosity. This contributed to why the event drew in hundreds of people, and why volunteers and attendees come back year after year.

Artful Science exhibit takes off at Toronto Pearson Airport

Images from under the microscope come to life in this exhibit

Artful Science exhibit takes off at Toronto Pearson Airport

The Terminal 1 Departures check-in area at Toronto Pearson International Airport underwent a makeover earlier this month with the arrival of the Artful Science exhibit, on display now until the end of this year.

Curated by the University of Toronto and the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), in collaboration with the Stem Cell Network, laboratory images from scientists across the country were selected by the Department of Ambiance and Aesthetics, Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

The exhibit features images from cutting-edge research, from quantum mechanics to stem cells, inviting millions of passengers who are travelling through the airport to experience the beauty of scientific discovery that scientists witness every day.

“As a scientist I have always found that science is beautiful regardless of whether it is a picture, a bar graph, or an idea,” says Blair Gage, a postdoctoral fellow from the McEwan Centre for Regenerative Medicine, whose work is featured in the exhibit.

The exhibit distills complicated concepts into works of art, and encourages a curiosity that is satiated by examining the work in greater detail and learning about the research behind each image.

“By showcasing science as art, [we get] our most enticing data out to the people that paid for it and [give] everyone the chance to have a ‘wow’ and ‘I wonder how’ thought together.”

BLAIR GAGE/TIMOTHY KIEFFER LAB, UBC

Gage’s contribution to the exhibit is an image he created during his time as a graduate student in The Kieffer Lab at the University of British Columbia. Reminiscent of a brightly-coloured piece of abstract art, Gage’s image shows a small group of stem cells that have the extraordinary ability to become any type of cell in the body.

Gage is interested in how these cells can be used in treatments for a number of diseases — for example, diabetes — by promoting tissue repair in the body.

To Gage, stem cells stir up a curiosity that inspires his research.

“What can a stem cell do?” he wonders. “How can we use these cells to make new therapies… why do these cells have such amazing abilities?”

These questions are shared by the scientists featured throughout the exhibit, many of whom are also researching novel uses of stem cells in medical fields.

ANGELIKA DUFFY/SCIENCE & ENGINEERING ENGAGEMENT

While images like Gage’s may be commonplace to scientists in the field, they often aren’t as accessible by members of the public.

This is the premise behind the Artful Science exhibit: inviting passersby to engage with scientific research.

In the case of Gage’s and other stem cell images in the exhibit, this involves looking at cells through a microscope and using coloured molecules to distinguish different types and parts of cells, leading not just to vibrant works of art, but also allowing scientists to better understand the images under their microscopes.

By putting methods used in scientific research on display, Gage and other researchers across Canada hope to inspire an array of audiences.

“If you put science pictures everywhere in the world, then they are simply a part of everyday life,” says Gage. “As long as a picture invokes a thousand questions, it has done its job.”

Many of the images appearing in Artful Science come from Cells I See, a competition for the public to choose their favourite stem cell image.

This year’s contest runs until October 17 and voting is available on the CCRM’s Facebook page.