They wear capes and can fly. In a parody of the classic comic book, stem cells have become today’s superheroes — as portrayed in an engaging short video created by the Ontario Science Centre to promote its current stem cell exhibition. Quirky, but scientifically accurate, the video gives children and youth a quick summary of stem cells and how they function in the body. The intent is to stimulate questions and to drive kids into the main exhibit in search of answers.
The exhibition, entitled Super Cells: The Wonder of Stem Cells, presents an altogether different view of science. Housed in the Centre’s !dea Gallery, which itself is a student-driven showcase, the Super Cellsexhibition features science-based information on stem cells, presented in traditional panels, but also includes science in a story-book format, with embedded QR codes that project different illustrative videos onto a screen when the pages are turned. But the largest collection of materials in the exhibit includes stem-cell inspired artwork, created by students from OCAD University, the Academy of Design and the University of Toronto. These include over 60 textile panels, 2 and 3D art, videos and yes, even fashion.
The exhibit is an example of successful public education on two levels: first, because the entire exhibit was created by art, visualization and design students, it was essential that these students had a basic understanding of the science. Stem cell scientists spoke to more than 150 students and faculty at four different institutions and worked closely with the Sheridan College students in the creation of the scientific panels and storybook. The resulting artwork shows the level of involvement and appreciation of the subject matter — one textile panel, in particular, includes copies of all the notes taken by the student during the science presentation. Another is a reflection of the student’s own experience with skin grafting and conveys the promise of current and future improvements to this area of medicine.
Of course, there is also the education of the Centre’s visitors — more than 400,000 expected over the run of the exhibit (until October 2). As an art and science show, Super Cells offers visitors an experience outside the norm for a science centre. There are no experiments to try or buttons to push, but there is certainly lots to look at, to appreciate and to reflect upon. And, if the enthusiasm of a group of pre-teen girls, who gaped at the fashion pieces, exclaiming, “I didn’t know you could do that with science!” is any indication, the exhibit might just open some minds and encourage a new generation of scientists.
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