Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Ontario Science Centre

I’m back from a vacation to visit various family members scattered around the globe, including a stop in Toronto. It was time for a long overdue visit to the Ontario Science Centre, which I hadn’t visited since I was in my early teens, but which was one of my very favourite places when I was younger.

The Ontario Science Centre was built in 1969 and was a pretty revolutionary place at the time, as instead of the stereotypical ‘static’ museum displays pretty much everything was hands-on in some way. There are great exhibits on astronomy and the human body, an indoor rainforest with some really cool poison dart frogs, a fin whale skeleton, and the Science Arcade, which is probably one of the most fun science exhibits to play in.


The Human Body gallery includes a pickled elephant heart, smaller Arbour sibling for scale.
The only exhibit that I couldn’t make up my mind about was A Question of Truth, which purportedly attempts to examine bias in science. In essence, I like what this exhibit is trying to do – there are some good demonstrations of how unconscious biases about gender, race, and culture can affect your interpretations of various phenomena. For example, there was an excellent display about IQ tests that did a really great job showing just how subjective measures of intelligence can be. On the flip side, there were some really questionable ideas being thrown around, and a fair amount of support for woo in the form of ‘alternative medicine’. An example I’ll take from their website: “Compare different models of our Solar System and discovery that there’s more than one correct way to look at the skies...”. No. It is ok to discuss the history of our interpretations of the solar system, and to explain why there were different theories, but to imply that there is more than one right answer is misleading.

video

And speaking of space, our favourite find at the centre was this incredible exhibit on cosmic rays. Cosmic rays striking the super-cooled alcohol vapour leave bright tracks like contrails. (Fun fact: the narrator is Canadian astronaut Julie Payette.) A minor criticism is that the cosmic ray exhibits, being set in a small room across from the planetarium, are not particularly well marked, and it takes a bit of hunting through the placards on the walls to actually figure out what you’re looking at. But what a reward when you do! I’ll admit that I watched this for far, far too long.


One thing I hadn’t realized was that J. Tuzo Wilson (of plate tectonics fame) was a director of the Ontario Science Centre. His contributions to geology are recognized outside the centre with an ‘immovable stake’ showing how much the North American plate has moved since he was born.

Even though there are no fossil exhibits at the Ontario Science Centre, there was a wall of dinosaur stuff in the gift shop. Did you know that ankylosaurs were the laziest of dinosaurs?
Poor ankylosaurs just can’t catch a break.

3 comments:

  1. The pictures are great. I appreciate your work.

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  2. Sorry OT.

    Tarchia,

    Wanna do me a favor? Next time you go to Asia, could you try to ascertain the truth about these "Hanwulosaurus" reports? As an ankylophile, I thought you'd also be interested.

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  3. Didn't know that J. T. Wilson had been a director of the Ontario Science Centre. Also your photo from the Cosmic ray exhibit was great. Using a sibling for scale next to the elephant heart shows that you both had fun in the Science Arcade.

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