10 Sep 2015

Science North

by Joan Marie Galat

As a science author, I want to know the who-what-when-where-why-how of almost everything and traveling always triggers a myriad of fresh questions. That’s why, when my presentation schedule took me to Sudbury, I knew I had to make time to visit Science North. A visit to this first-class science center delivered the answers I wanted, but even better, it brought new topics to my attention. Here’s a selection of some of the irresistible facts I enjoyed discovering.

What formed the massive impact crater on the outskirts of Sudbury, Ontario?
Formed about 1.8 billion years ago, the Sudbury Basin is the second largest impact crater in the world. Most sources indicate it was created by a meteorite, however recent evidence suggests it may have been caused by a comet. The crater covers an area of about 30 x 60 kilometres (18 x 37 miles). It’s the source of nickel, copper, and 15 other minerals that have made Sudbury one of Canada's largest mining centers. So far, more than 125 craters have been found on Earth. NASA provides a nice teacher's guide with activities on impact craters.

What does it feel like to sleep on a bed of nails?
The sign said it wouldn’t hurt “much” and I suppose that’s an apt description, since I didn’t scream “very” loud when I tried it. The reason? If you drape yourself on one nail, your weight will push down on a single sharp point. If you stretch out on a bed of nails, your weight will be distributed over a large area. Still, I couldn’t sleep.

How long is your small intestine?
Pull a rope out of a human cut-out to get the full visual—your small intestine is more than 5.5 metres (6 yards) long. You might also like to know a 70 kg (154 pound) person’s body contains about 10 nails-worth of iron. You’ll also find enough salt to fill three shakers and water to fill 18 one-liter bottles (almost 5 US gallons). All that salt and water is protected by your skin. If you’re an average sized adult, your skin weighs 3-5 kilograms (7-11 pounds) and covers two square meters (2.4 square yards). It’s thickest on the soles of your feet and thinnest on your eyelids.

What is it like to be a newsreader on television?
Discover the science of television! Face the camera, hit record, read the teleprompter, and try to tell the world the latest science news without stumbling. If it’s not as easy as you thought, try to improve your delivery by reading more. Literacy matters.

How is animation created?
Arrange figurines on a tiny set, take a photo, rearrange again, and repeat the entire process a half dozen times. Follow the computer instructions and watch your creation come to life on a computer screen. Knowing how animation works makes watching We are Aliens in the science centre’s 360-degree digital planetarium even more fun. The show explores whether it’s possible to find life beyond Earth and what that might look like.

Three dimensional animation also brings woolly mammoths, sabre toothed tigers, and dire wolves to life in the centre’s Titans of the Ice Age. An accompanying exhibit explores Earth’s frozen landscapes in the time period encompassing 10 thousand years before modern civilization. 

You will discover how how creatures like this macrauchenia adapted to the cold environment and how prehistoric humans hunted this mega fauna. Ice eventually made it possible for North and South American animals to mix, causing some species to become extinct, and others to thrive.

Another plus at Science North is the chance to enjoy up close looks at live wildlife including frogs, skunks, turtles, a porcupine named Quillan, and Drifter, a beaver who can’t be released because part of his tail was lost to frostbite. Outside the science centre, a walk along Ramsey Lake provides the opportunity to discover flora and fauna in a natural setting.

Look for aquatic insects, chipmunks, Canada geese, and sandhill cranes. I especially enjoyed spotting the monarch waystation designed to provide nectar and shelter to migrating butterflies. Interpretive signage outlines a few human-caused problems. You can find out what happens if you release non-native plants or animals into the wild and how washing a car on a driveway allows detergents, grease, and other chemicals to enter waterways.

Next time your travels take you near a science center, take advantage of the opportunity to have your who-what-where-why-how questions answered too. You might find yourself thinking in new ways about how science applies to your own environment.

Read more: Joan Marie Galat explores the social and ecological importance of trees in Branching Out, How Trees are part of Our World - ​2015 winner of the Santa Monica Public Library Green Prize for Sustainable Literature. 

No comments: