Driving Cultural Transformation: Science Rendezvous 2024 

May 6, 2024 by Alyx Dellamonica

“We want to spark curiosity, especially in kids,” says Nita Ghosh, a member of Science Rendezvous Chemistry’s executive committee. “Anyone interested in science should have hands on experiences, and that’s what we’ve kept in mind when organizing this festival.”  

Ghosh is a PhD student in the Miller group, and is among a group of graduate students from all three UofT campuses spearheading the effort to rebuild and expand the department’s role in Science Rendezvous 2024. A cross-Canada outreach with events scheduled in six provinces and the Northwest Territories, the event was founded at the University of Toronto in 2008 by Professor Dwayne Miller.  

The May 11th event is the largest one-day science festival in the country, with 6,000 volunteers and, at its pre-pandemic peak, drawing over 215,000 attendees. During the 2020 Covid pandemic, the festival moved online and attendance fell—not a surprising outcome for an event based around audience participation, live demonstrations and in-your-face science experiments. Head shot of a South Asian woman with shoulder-length black hair smiles in three-quarters profile.

“Covid took a toll on the whole event,” Ghosh observes. “We're working to get the energy and participation back to where it was, while brainstorming ways to grow it bigger.” 

Ghosh’s role within the executive committee is to act as a bridge between the department and the Science Rendezvous chairs. She believes Chemistry at UofT has a key leadership role to play in leading the event's revival, and with that in mind the executive committee is already building resources for future events, securing funding from ChemClub, and seeking mentorship for displays and demonstrations. Professor Cynthia Goh has been instrumental in helping with laser demonstrations, for example. Partnerships with other universities to develop best practices for live chemistry magic shows have allowed the training of several department students. This will enable them to repeat similar performances in the future. 

“Building expertise supports our long term vision, and allows us to create a permanent team to take things forward in the future,” Ghosh says. “Science Rendezvous is a national event, but it started here at UofT Chemistry and we want to remain at the heart of it.” 

Another addition to the 2024 program is The Story of Water  Symposium, a series of talks, workshops and activities at McLennan Physical Laboratories on Friday May 10th as part of a joint Chemistry and Physics Department effort to help kick off Science Rendezvous with main activities next day.  (Participants interested in the art workshop can register here.) The Symposium, like all Rendezvous events, is open to the public and the talks will be accessible to interested non-specialist attendees, including high school students.

On Saturday May 10th the St. George campus will welcome visitors to participate in the chemistry magic show, view the laser display, and explore various activities including an interactive art exhibition, a coding camp, a science-based obstacle course and a traditional science fair. There is no age bar to participation, and the event is designed to be family-friendly and fun as well as illuminating. 

“At one point our goal was to have as many people at Science Rendezvous as you’d see at a Bluejays opening home game,” Prof. Miller says, adding that he founded the festival to stress the importance of scientific literacy to Canadians, and to give scientists a chance to give back to their home communities by telling the public about their research.  

That attendance goal had been exceeded by the cross Canada attendance numbers well before 2019, but Miller’s ambitions for the event remain high: “The Story of Water Symposium gets people thinking about Indigenous knowledge systems and environmental science. We also want to focus on the stories of women in and entering STEM.” 

“Everyone’s born a scientist,” says Miller. “Ultimately, we want to drive cultural transformation in the way we think about science in Canada.” 

To learn more about Science Rendezvous, see our earlier story on The Story of Water Symposium.