Blast Radius

Engaging kids in science for 50 years and counting

Ontario Science Centre celebrating anniversary with new exhibits to open visitors’ minds

I observed a white-goateed volunteer pull back a lever on an old loom as a collection of young eyes watched him. Most certainly he was weaving curiosity with every pull and explanation.

“Weaving is mathematical,” murmurs Sabrina Greupner, manager of the Weston Family Innovation Centre at the Ontario Science Centre. She’s also the Cisco Science Fellow for Innovative Learning Technologies, so she’s always on the lookout for new ways to engage kids and open their minds to the possibilities.

It’s an early February morning and I’m seated in the Inventorium 2.0 section of the science centre. I’m balancing my overactive mind with an interview and piping hot coffee from the Maker Bean café.

Greupner is recounting a trip she had with Paul Terry, whom I interviewed 10 years ago for the 40th anniversary of the centre. Now, they’re celebrating 50 years. Terry has retired, but Greupner has been on staff for a good 25 years.

They were driving a flatbed from Toronto to Dryden for an exhibit there. On it was a homunculus, a statue that exaggerates the body parts that have the most sensitive nerves. In other words, it has big hands, head, ears, mouth.

It’s a garish figure, and not particularly a safe-for-work Google item, but sure enough during the 1980s the two of them were driving the 400-series highways with this strapped to the back of their flatbed.

“I remember being 19 years old driving this giant flatbed to Dryden with this monstrous statue on the back with people on the 400-series looking at you,” she recalled.

Greupner applied for a job at the Science Centre back in 1982 as a host. One of the pleasant folks that guide you in your investigations inside the brutalist design of the institution at Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue East.

She left in 1988 to take up teaching but returned in 2000 to take on the role of Science Writer. In 2007, she was given one of her two titles.

It’s been love for her since day one. It’s all because of the kids and their innate curiosity about how things work. It’s also about keeping them interested as they get older because our economy depends on innovation.

“How do you engage young people with technology and innovation?” she asked. “You’ve got grade school and then there’s that drop-off for maths and sciences when you get to high school, especially for girls that we want to overcome.”

Part of it is the collaborations with other organizations, as well as incorporating the arts into STEM. Which makes it STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics).

And the Ontario Science Centre has done a wonderful job of that. Most, if not all the installations, are made in-house, and a little-known fact is the OSC also crafts a lot of exhibits for the rest of the world in places such as Ireland, Malaysia, and South America.

That’s been going on since the doors opened in September 1969.

Some of the new ones this year, in preparation of the 50th anniversary, are the Celebration Way in March, Summer of Space in May, and The Mind in September.

As my interview with Greupner winds down, she looks back to the kids at the loom with the volunteer.

“A day doesn’t go by that you walk out on the floor and you remember why you’re here with the kids,” she said.

I couldn’t agree more, as the Science Centre captured my curiosity back in 1986 when I paid the spot a visit on a class trip.

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