19 Aug 2016

Mark Your Calendar: Science Literacy Week Sept. 19-25!

Science lovers, strap on your boots! You’ll need them for Science Literacy Week coming your way September 19-25, all across the country. This wonderful celebration of all things science will feature events for everyone, adults and kids alike, in venues ranging from libraries and schools to museum and local parks.

Jesse Hildebrand, founder of Science Literacy Week
Science Literacy Week is the brainchild of Jesse Hildebrand, a self-confessed science geek and energy whirlwind. I had the opportunity to interview him earlier this summer, to find out both where he gets his superhuman enerjuice and about the marvelousness that is Science Literacy Week. Here is what I found out:

1. Give us your brief potted bio. Who the heck are you and why do you love science so much?

I'm a lifelong tremendous nerd, born and raised in the same lovely house in Etobicoke.  I grew up with Steve Irwin posters on my wall and Carl Sagan books on my shelf.  If I was interested in anything, my parents dutifully marched me to a library to get books on it.  Thus, my initial love of science was fostered and nourished immensely. 

I went on to get an Evolutionary Biology Degree from U of T and a Science and Society Diploma from The Open University.

I also truly love baseball, nature, books, pina coladas and taking walks in the rain.  The dunes of the cape also sound awfully inviting.

2. What were some of the science books you read as a kid that sparked your imagination?

 I still have them so that's easy!  The Ultimate Book of Dinosaurs, Animals of the World, The Great Big Book of Knowledge, The Crazy World of What If? And my two very favourites, the awesome 'Wildlife Fact File" series and the Oxford First Encyclopedia.  My own kids will get all of them.  I was also encouraged by the librarians at my junior schools at Broadacres and John G Althouse and at Richview Public Library, where I'm still to be found roaming the halls more often than not.

3. What is Science Literacy Week? Why/how did you found it?

Science Literacy Week began simply as an effort to encourage University of Toronto libraries to bring their science collections out from the back for one week and prominently display them in the spot typically reserved for popular fiction.  I had always wanted to do something in science communication, and quite literally the day after I finished my last exam -  April 3rd, 2014 - I approached the libraries to make the ask. They took me seriously and it snowballed from there.

4. Tell Sci/Why readers about how the program has expanded since you began it in 2014.

Once the U of T libraries got on board, I convinced the Toronto Public, Mississauga Public and York University libraries to join in, making it a total of four participating institutions.  I convinced a few of my former professors to give talks and also arranged a smattering of other activities. 

It went pretty well in Toronto!  I thought that it could be expanded to include the whole country, so in 2015, I emailed everybody - libraries, museums, science organizations - some 4,500 emails in all in an attempt to make Science Literacy Week bigger. 

There was a tremendous response! I was remarkably lucky to receive ten yesses for every no. All told, Science Literacy Week 2015 came to include 300 events in 40 cities coast-to-coast. 

This year, with 160+ partners and major support from Indigo and NSERC (The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada), Science Literacy Week 2016 looks to be even bigger. NSERC has now hired me run the week, which means that since I no longer have to do this as a volunteer, I can commit full time to bringing it to life.  As of August 8st, there are 142 events already scheduled to run in 8 provinces!

5. Can you highlight some of the most successful/innovative/fun programs that ran in previous years, and some that are coming up this year?  

St. John's, NF, was one of the 2015 Science Literacy Week’s hotspots.  A great group of participants including Memorial University, the public libraries, the Johnson Geo Centre and the Let'sTalk Science folks worked together to present 27 events in 7 days. These included taking over the main mall in the city for a 5 hour science demo, an impressive event covered by the local radio station.  That was Science Literacy Week at its best! 

Across Canada, there was also "the Great Egg Drop" where kids had to make a container to drop an egg in from 25 ft. without it breaking; science demos in libraries where you could play with Non-Newtonian fluids; dozens of Astronomy Nights and more. 

For this year, some early confirmed highlights include:
Ø  Dissect a Beaver  (Vancouver)
Ø  Bird-banding hike in Oak Hammock Marsh (Manitoba)
Ø  Science with Fire and Alcohol (Red Deer)
Ø  A showcase of iconic science books you can touch and flip the pages of at Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).

6. And let’s repeat for those who have forgotten: when is Science Literacy Week running this year?

September 19-25, 2016. 

For the current roster of confirmed events by province, go to http://scienceliteracy.ca/events/

7. How can people – librarians, educators, institutions, ordinary folk who want to HOST a program -  get involved?

Anyone who wants to host a program or be put in touch with other local groups who might be keen to partner can contact me directly  info@scienceliteracy.ca.

8. And for those who would like to attend or participate in a program, where can they find the information?

For the most up to date listings of confirmed events by province, go to 

You can learn about events near you on twitter @scilitweek, on Facebook at Facebook.com/scilitweek

You can participate by spreading the word and sharing your love of science with the hashtag #scilit16

 Thank you! See you in September!

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