Ontario Science Centre takes wraps off high-tech youth facility

TORONTO — The Ontario Science Centre on Wednesday launched the second phase of a 25,000 sq. ft. facility that features over 50 stations aimed at getting youth and young adults interested in science and technology.

Called the Weston Family Innovation Centre, which opens to the public on Thursday, the space features interactive stations such as jackbots that can be programmed to perform various functions; a piano that activates a fountain when played or when a digital music player is plugged in; and a harp that plays words rather than music. The first phase of the Centre opened in March 2005.

“For today’s youth and young adults, science and technology is no longer a mystery,” said Lesley Lewis, CEO, Ontario Science Centre. “Technology fits into a backpack.”

The Centre, which is aimed at youth and young adults from 14 to 24, is part of a $47-million initiative called Agents of Change — a multi-year plan to revitalize the Ontario Science Centre to bring it up to speed with technology in the 21st century. The initiative also includes four other areas: KidSpark, which opened in November 2003 and expanded in December 2004 and Teluscape, a 51,000 sq. ft. large outdoor science exploration space, which is scheduled to open in September.

Blythe George, a second year music student at the University of Toronto who attended Wednesday’s launch, said the Centre helps her to see the relationship between visual science and music.

“Music can be made more accessible through science,” she said, giving the example of one of the booths that allows people to press buttons to create sound-scapes without prior training in music.

The Ontario government has invested $16.6 million in the project since its initial involvement six years ago. Other donations include $15 million from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, $10.1 million from Telus, $2 million from DuPont Canada and a $1 million contribution from the Government of Canada’s Department of Canadian Heritage’s Cultural Spaces Canada program.

In attendance at Wednesday’s event on behalf of the provincial government was Ontario Minister of Culture Caroline Di Cocco, who played the keyboard before taking to the stage. Minister Di Cocco said the Centre is a “win-win” for everyone.

“We must continue to build and sustain innovation,” she said. “We want to help youth excel in post-secondary studies. Success requires creative, highly skilled people.”

The Weston Family Innovation Centre features 123 monitors in the space that show multimedia content such as a camera that takes your picture and displays it on the floor in front of you to monitors that deliver instructions. The monitors are controlled by a centralized system called the PIVoD Media Platform, which is manufactured by Australian company PIVoD Technologies.

The Ontario Science Centre put out a bid for the project on the Merx system but Barry Crean, associate project manager, Agents of Change Initiative, said there were very few RFPs submitted. PIVoD provides a blend of audio-visual and IT services that are specifically tailored to exhibit design and architectural industries. Some of PIVoD’s other projects include the King Abdul Aziz Historical Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Storyeum underground theatre in Vancouver’s Gastown district and Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.

The system works places all of the assets together and stores them in the digital object management system, or DOM. From there, the assets are delivered to each individual client at one of the over 50 wireless stations in the Centre.

“The system has internal checks to make sure it’s playing the right content to the right monitor at the right time,” said Crean. If the network should go down for some reason, the system will alert one of the technicians via e-mail or on their mobile device.

The content generated at the Centre is also tightly integrated with a Web site called redshiftnow.ca. On this site, visitors, for example, can view animation sequences they created at one of the booths from their home. The Ontario Science Centre has over three million online visitors and one million on site visitors per year.

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