Ontario Science Centre

It was a long time since I've been to the Ontario Science Centre, and since I never blogged it in the 'Things to Do Around Town' section of my blog, this cold and blustery fall afternoon seemed as good as a time as any.  As you enter the Science Centre you will be taken down a long hallway (known as 'The Bridge').  This was one of my favorite spots in

the Science Centre as a child because of the awesome views of nature out of the windows.

Today, the views are still there and just as awesome, as well as a long line of ancient rocks up to four billion years old (the actual rocks aren't that old, but tiny grains in them called zircons are.)  The earth is 4.5 billion years old.  You may wonder why the oldest rocks aren't that old too?  It turns out shortly after the Earth formed, in the violent early days of the solar system, it was hit by a Mars-sized planet and mostly liquified into lava again! The debris launched into space coalesced and became our Moon. It's mind-blowingly daunting and humbling that a human lifetime on this scale is a thousandth of a millimetre, much thinner than a coat of paint!

After the bridge, you enter the 'Great Hall' which has been taken over by the latest innovations in Robotics technology.  There were hands-on robotics devices and the chance to chat with leading robot experts about the Mars 'Curiosity Rover' instruments and of course our 'CanadArm' maker.  I was too shy to interact with them as I didn't have any knowledge in robotics so would have been in over my head!

Space is next, and it's always been that way at the Science Centre.  Years ago when I was young, this was my least favorite section (and still is) but we were here and so I made the compromise.  The first thing you'll notice is the model of a rocket called 'Saturn V'.

Saturn V was the largest and most powerful rocket ever launched and was used by the Apollo space program.  The Saturn V sent the first humans to the Moon in 1969.  It stood 111 metres high (which is taller than a 36 storey building.  It measured about 10 metres across the base.  It had the capacity of sending 130,000 kg into orbit which was achieved through 3 separate stages, with each stage burning high-peformance fuel.  There were  15 Saturn V built in all.

I spent quite a lot of time in Space (and some may agree I sometimes do...), but I didn't learn anything new.  In fact most of the exhibits were really kind of boring to me.  There were no interactive exhibits at all.  One thing I do remember was when they once had the interior model of a rocket ship, with lots of buttons and triggers so give you that feeling of being there.  It was fun, and fun to children = learning.  At least for me, as a hands-on person, it's sometimes the only way to absorb new things.  We did stay for a half hour lecture on 'Extreme Space' .  A hundred of us were in a round pod-like Planetarium in which we were shown stars, novas, and galaxies overhead.  I chose to lean back on a large bean bag instead of the benches, and found myself in blissful sleep for at least 20 of those 30 minutes...

Now time to get out into the fresh outdoors, so we snuck outside to look around before going downstairs into the only level of the Science Centre that remained (sadly most of the large space and larger exhibits are stored away unused and forgotten.)  There's still much science in the natural world of course.

Now this I've seen before, but never looked into its meaning.  I just thought it was a piece of modern artIt turns out it has a very deep and well thought out meaning.  It was explained to me like this,  'It's a human figure with the parts of the body sized proportionally to how much of our brain is devoted to them. Notice that one thumb uses more brain-space than both legs and feet!' The plaque at right that should have explained this was removed so if I didn't have anyone to explain this, it would have just been a meaningless and somewhat odd statue!

The place where the statue can be found was and still is my favorite part of the Science Centre.  It always felt like a secret hiding place where the real scientific exhibits are seen (the secret stash...) Funny how those old feelings of youth never die.  This area is used in the warmer months by visitors as an outdoor patio and scenic area.

Some more outdoor views as you make your way to the lower level where you will see the Science Arcade.  I must admit this area of the Science Centre is really more of an interactive playground for kids to press buttons and run around in, but there is some real learning here for the more inquisitive children.  I love to see a parent who mentors their children and takes time to stop and answer their questions, even if they seem rather silly.

In contrast, there are newer areas such as the Weston Family Innovation Centre, and a large play area on the second level that replaced numerous sections of real science exhibits.  This area sadly doesn't seem to have any real learning opportunities or demonstrate any scientific principles.  It seems like an overt attempt to get parents to bring their kids in without considering that the whole idea of what the purpose of this place is that they will be learning something relevant to their future lives.  

I wasn't going to touch on this subject here, but this is a factor that is inescapable here:  The corporate logos are
everywhere due to the donations and sponsorships required to keep the centre going financially.  I don't know for sure, and probably won't look into it, but it seems the visitor headcount has gone down, and so many of the great exhibits that I remember are gone, leaving much empty space (why would they be removed?)

I never liked the looking at the large stump on the right. I can only imagine how many of these giants have been cut down that will never again grow to this size...

...and here are the lightest and heaviest woods in the world.
Can you tell which is the lightest and which one is the heaviest?

Worlds lightest wood
Worlds heaviest wood (one of them)

These old household implements are surprisingly used to demonstrate that intelligence test are biased, as some assume knowledge of objects, words and ideas that some ages and cultures may be unfamiliar with.  I think that most people would probably guess most of them by their appearance. Don't peek, but when you are done writing them down, scroll down to the bottom of the post, where you'll find the answers there.

Ever seen a plasma ball?  They look like lightning in a glass, powered by a Tesla coil discharging through inert gases. The one at the Science Centre is the largest I have ever seen.

Diagram 1
Now apparently, according to this, humans can't fly. It's claimed that we can't flap our arms fast enough, but to be fair, even if we did have wings, we're just too heavy and dense to get off the ground. We can glide with the right suit though, but only downwards.

Here is a very old exhibit that I remember when I was a child.  Can you pick the winner of the two discs?  If you click on the picture you should be able to read about the outcome and why.
Diagram 2

Diagram 2 will show the same principles in a different way.  As it turns out, it is much more difficult to spin the 7 and 20 lbs wheels than the 7 and 20 lb. wheels on the left because all the weight is distributed on the outside.
Diagram 3- Open the Gate

Surprisingly not as easy as you think.  There is a trick to it, and I figured it out in less than 5 minutes.....a fun kind of puzzle.   Turns out all there is to it is to push down on the post on the far right, which lowers the latch to unlock the gate.  But I ask you, is this science or art and design?  Maybe the science is Cognitive Science, the study of human perception (and its shortcomings) which is also interesting.  It covers psychology, consciousness and perception, and radically influenced Artificial Intelligence.  So, yes, this gate belongs here.
Designed and Constructed by James Delgety in 1989.

Finally it closing time and while we were in the basement we found the brain where all of the data from the Science Centre makes its way to this room.  It is a central computing hub which helps to run exhibits, computers, screens and displays that are seen throughout the building.  Pretty neat huh??

1. curling iron 2. scissors 3. wax melter 4. candle mould 5. knitter 6. apple corer 7. inuit sunglasses (my favorite one) 8. vacuum cleaner (too easy)