Saturday, February 8, 2014

2013 Field Trip Toronto & Waterloo

On November 19, 2013, we SCOMrades hopped in various cars and convoyed down to Toronto.  The impetus for the trip was the Canadian Science Policy Conference, at which Dave and Chantal were running a science communication workshop.  Once our 13-person class un-mobbed itself enough to mingle, we met loads of brilliant, creative and welcoming people.  Many inspiring conversations were shared over delicious conference fare.

Another highlight of the trip was the tour of CTV studios.  Our guide Nina was eternally patient and answered the thousandth excited question as fully as the first.  We spent most of our time around the set of Daily Planet—behind the scenes with the production team, on the sidelines while the show was taped, and even right on the main couch, attempting to read off of the teleprompter.  (It’s harder than it looks, believe me.)  Dan Riskin and Ziya Tong were personable and energetic hosts.  I think we all left the studio with hoarse throats and sore legs—the pace of television production is crazy!
We skipped out of the city for a day or so to visit the Perimeter Institute and the Institute for Quantum Computing in Waterloo.  Both places were a bit outside my own science experience (would I…would I take my car to Quantum Mechanics?), but the two physicists in our class were right at home!  And our hosts—Damien Pope at PI and Martin Laforest at IQC—were incredibly approachable, welcoming questions of any knowledge level.  At PI, we were awed by the sleek-yet-warm design and Damien’s tricky physics demonstrations.  At IQC, we saw a super-stable building within a building and a piece of equipment that, at near-absolute zero, was colder than the far reaches of space.  It was clear that both PI and IQC were spaces of innovation and imagination.

My personal favourite experience was back in Toronto, at the Royal Ontario Museum.  We were invited to attend the staff opening of Wildlife Photographer of the Year.  WPY is an international photography competition run by BBC Worldwide and the Natural History Museum in Britain.  This year there were 43 000 entries and we saw the cream of the crop—100 gorgeous backlit photos that showcased the diversity of life on this planet.  The winning photographs included wildlife big and small, plant and animal, terrestrial and marine, pristine and heavily human-influenced.

This experience really demonstrated the stunning impact that visual science communication can have.  After taking in a spectacular image of an elephant or a dugong or a bumblebee, it was gut-wrenching to read about the damage humans are inflicting on these creatures and their habitats.  The WPY exhibit showed the power that visuals can have, and this power was further developed through public programs and events accompanying the exhibit.  The Fleming College Environmental Visual Communication group put a lot of work into this programming: Friday Night Live “Go Wild,” Twitter and Instagram participation with #ROMWPY, photography workshops and expert lectures.

Overall, our trip was packed with fascinating, fun content and we all came home tired, but happy.    

-Kate Henbest, SciComm '14