To the casual passerby, the Ontario Science Centre (OSC) is a daring work of architecture, with sloping walls and confident curves, stretched across a scenic spot near one of Toronto’s many greenbelts. Such an impression might evoke memories of childhood trips long forgotten, remnants of an intellectually engaging and thrilling past; a tugging at the mind, an inner voice saying, “Remember when…?” The average Torontonian has visited the OSC at least once in their lives. Indeed, it is one of Toronto’s most popular tourist destinations, a learning hubbub for innovation and scientific discourse. Visitors peruse a web of knowledge and creativity through interactive exhibitions displayed proudly within towering, arching halls. Its attractively designed and spacious rooms make it a popular venue for numerous external activities. On one Friday evening in particular, small groups of teenagers gathered before the large glass walls. The air buzzed with chatter and excitement, bubbled with anticipation. A throng of people shifted around the entrance, numbers swelling larger with every minute.
On Friday 27 March, Sci Fri, a free quarterly event for youth aged 14-18, was held from 6-9 pm. It was organized by the OSC Youth Council, with the intent to educate and inform teens about various scientific topics. March’s theme was “Sports: Good for the Mind and Body?” However, with roots dating back to 2007, the event was to be the last of its kind.
People walking in through the large revolving doors were greeted with upbeat music, loud and thrumming. Youth Council members were posted around the venue, directing attendees to various activities planned throughout the night. The actual event took place in the hot zone of the OSC, an intimate area in the very heart of the building. Complimentary refreshments were available throughout the night.
Donna Francis and Shauna Cook, the founders of Sci Fri, never dreamed that the event would grow as big as it did. “We expected [Sci Fri] to be a showcase for science and innovation to youth,” Francis reflects. “But it turned into something much better- a reflection of the interests and energy of young people on science topics, popular culture and global issues.”
Sci Fri was created in 2007 to draw more visitors to the Weston Family Innovation Centre, a space featuring activities and exhibitions designed specifically for encouraging innovation in young people. At Sci Fri, teens connect with other like-minded individuals who are curious about science and innovative thinking. Students come from all over the GTA, and learn about different issues through interactive speakers and activities. Though the first year yielded around 20 participants, Sci Fri has exploded to hosting a record of over 150 participants at a single event.
A relaxed atmosphere continued throughout the event, beginning with introductory games along the path to the hot zone, and a large icebreaker game for the attendees to get acquainted with one another. A setup of cupcakes, veggies and dip, popcorn and other snacks were displayed colourfully at the side.
Attendees participated in activities ranging from exclusive access to the exhibition BRAIN: The Inside Story, to sports design challenges, to the Battle of the Sexes – a trivia competition pitting females and males against each other. Airbrush tattoos and music were featured throughout the event. Of all the activities however, the highlight of the event was the keynote speakers. Guest speakers in past years have ranged from scientists to prominent TV personas, such as the Water Brothers. The recent event featured Gillian White, a PhD candidate from the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Toronto, and Dr. Nasreen Khatri, a clinical psychologist from the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest. Both speakers discussed the biological implications of exercise on the brain and body.
The event was largely rated a success. Saiyam Patel, a Grade 9 student at Marc Garneau C.I., was a first time attendee. He expressed, “I felt it was great [and] taught a lot of new things. It kept a good amount of freedom so kids could learn on their own.” He went on to note that he would definitely like to go again.
Such were the sentiments of many Sci Fri participants as the night drew to a close.
With eight years of history, Sci Fri has become a monumental icon in educational youth events, providing an enriching experience like none other. 27 March marked the date of the very last Sci Fri ever – at least, in the foreseeable future.
In early March, due to financial constraints, the OSC created new objectives and budgets, and cut all events that were unrelated to projects happening during regular hours. It was an internal business decision that reshuffled focus onto more pressing concerns. Sci Fri was an extraneous initiative, and was not to receive any more funding from the OSC. Especially for the regular attendees, this decision came suddenly, decisively, and irreversibly.
It was with a bittersweet mood that the night drew to a close. Attendees reminisced over past events, and dragged their feet when it was time to leave.
“Sci Fri events were important to young people,” Francis admitted. “Perhaps this decision indicates that it is time to develop a new way for young people to interact with relevant science, connect to global issues and be part of the Ontario Science Centre?” She remains optimistic that new opportunities for youth will open up.
Sci Fri might have ended, but its goals will endure.
Still haven’t fully processed that there won’t be anymore SciFri’s… :'(