Science isn’t just for scientists; it’s for everyone. And there just might be a heck of a lot of it going on right in your own backyard. If you were following along on social media, you might already know that I returned for the second annual Vancouver Science Social last Thursday. A group of us social media types hopped on a big red bus and went on an adult field trip filled with death chambers, exoskeletons, and stargazers.
Much of last year’s field trip was spent on the main campus of my alma mater, the University of British Columbia (UBC), so it only made sense that we spent most of this year’s trip at the other major research university in the Metro Vancouver area: Simon Fraser University (SFU).
From there, I was among a few brave souls who dove to a virtual depth of 150 feet of seawater in the hyperbaric chamber at SFU’s Environmental Medicine and Physiology Unit. From what I recall, this is the only civilian research facility in Canada that can simulate both hyperbaric (high pressure) and hypobaric (low pressure) conditions. It’s capable of “diving” down to 1,000 feet of sea water or “flying” up to 100,000 feet, equivalent to the atmospheric pressure on Mars.
We also visited with the SFU Locomotion Lab for some hands-on time with an energy-harvesting exoskeleton, a split treadmill, and a muscle “listening” instrument. Learning about the mechanics of the human body, both in terms of harnessing its power and how to study it, was fascinating. That cyborg-esque contraption can be used to charge your smartphone on the go! It only costs about $20,000…
A big highlight of the day was spending time at the ruff aviary with Dr. David Lank (he goes by “Dov”). The ruff is a sandpiper that migrates as far north as Scandinavia and as far south as South Africa every year. The bird, which Dov has been studying for the better part of 25 years, is most notable because there are three distinct varieties of males: the black “fighters,” the white “wingmen,” and the brown “female mimics.” They’re all genetically distinct, yet they manage to coexist and mate with the same females.
After spending some time at the Trottier Observatory and Science Courtyard, we hopped back on the bus to Science World for an evening reception and a guided tour of the Made in Canada feature exhibit. Did you know that the world’s first commercial quantum computer was developed in Burnaby? Did you know that the egg carton, goalie mask and lightbulb were also invented by Canadians?
“I think success has no rules, but you can learn a great deal from failure.”
Indeed, science consists of an endless sequence of failures and therein lies its greatest beauty. Because every once in a while, there’s a guy who builds a helicopter by hand in his own backyard. And he didn’t even have a 3D printer to do it.