FEATURES – Science Rendezvous


Imagine having someone reveal a world that was right under your nose the whole time. Well, in case you missed it, that’s exactly what we did on May 12th at Science Rendezvous Kingston. This event was just one out of over 300 events that took place all across Canada in celebration of all things science and engineering. Art the Science was thrilled to be a part this public outreach event particularly because this year’s theme championed Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics or STEAM. This was an opportunity for us to share science-inspired art with a large audience and so we did not want to miss it. We took on an ambitious challenge to engage thousands of community members in soil bacteria and after endless hours of preparation, our volunteers were finally ready to welcome everyone into the world of microbiota.

Leon, Ryan and Alex flash a smile with their microbiota glasses during set-up (Photo by: Liam Rémillard)

Our activities were inspired by Pixels and Plans’s Microbiota, where bacteria were collected and grown from different soil samples around Kingston. Visitors were introduced to two activities they could participate in: 1) They could take selfies with our fashionable microbiota masquerade masks featuring different stained soil bacteria, or 2) they could embark on a bacteria scavenger hunt for a chance to win one of three science prizes.

The microbiota selfie masquerade masks were a big hit! (Photo by: Liam Rémillard)

Cat explains how the microbiota scavenger hunt works to eager participants. (Photo by: Liam Rémillard)

At our central booth, we received a constant flow of curious people wanting to take pictures with bacteria and participate in the scavenger hunt. We set up five other stations where participants could collect stamps on their microbiota passport while learning about bacteria. Each station represented a place in Kingston (except for our mystery station located in New Mexico) where the specific soil bacteria was collected and eventually cultured.  These stations included: Wolfe Island, City Hall, Lemoine Point Conservation Area, White Sands Missile Range and Market Square. Photos of the bacteria were placed in petri dishes to show how they looked when they were growing, while the computer screens displayed what the bacteria looked like under the microscope. Once participants collected all the stamps at each location, they would be entered into our draw.

Our wonderful volunteers Dhanish and Maureen pose for a quick picture at Market Square station (Photo by: Liam Rémillard)

Our volunteer Patrick talks to curious visitors about the soil bacteria found on Wolfe Island. (Photo by: Liam Rémillard)

Alex shows off her microbiota glasses to an excited participant (Photo by: Liam Rémillard)

These activities provided a chance for people to get up close and personal with something they don’t typically see in their day to day lives. The sciart created conversation and questions about bacteria and why they are important. It also provided relevance because the soil bacteria were collected from different places in the Kingston community they see everyday. Bacteria are everywhere, but how interesting is it to see the bacteria from your own town!? I remember listening in on conversations where families would remember their trips to Wolfe Island and then made the connection to the bacteria we were showcasing.

The ATS board with our amazing volunteers after a successful day of science fun! (Photo by: Liam Rémillard)

All smiles from the ATS board as we wrap up an amazing day of outreach (Photo by: Liam Rémillard)

At the end of the day, we collected over 450 completed scavenger hunt passports! This meant that despite all the other science activities that were happening, people actually went to all of our stations to collect stamps! All in all, it was a spectacular event with a great turnout and we were so happy to be a part of all the science fun!

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About the Author

Cat Lau

Cat is a former behavioural neuroscientist-turned-science communicator. She is passionate about integrating creative approaches in science communication and knowledge mobilization. For the past few years, Cat has held diverse roles as a science writer, amateur-artist, nomadic science outreach facilitator and knowledge translation coordinator. Her interest in art-based science communication inspired her research in Canadian organizations and programs that use interdisciplinary approaches to engage the public in the sciences. This led to her interest in the evaluation component of the Science-Artist Residency at Art the Science. Ultimately, she hopes to develop resources that will contribute to the growth of Canadian science-art culture. Twitter: @scicommcat