*header photo by Trevor Lalonde
*article photos by Nadia Elkharadly
Back in September I had the chance to experience the Beakerhead Arts and Science Festival in Calgary, Alberta. It turned out to be one of the most interesting and engaging festivals I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending, one that I can’t say enough great things about.
Founded in 2010, the premise behind Beakerhead is to make science not only accessible and understandable, but entertaining and exciting as well. The festival’s founders, Mary Anne Moser and her partner Jay Ingram both came from science backgrounds, and both wanted to share their love of science with the world. Previously, Jay had found success in the popularization of science through his television show Daily Planet. Mary Anne combined her background in science and communications to work in publishing and as a journalist, before founding a renowned science communications program, and a nation-wide Iron Science contest. And if that’s not enough, she has both a Masters and a PhD. Already partners in life and bonded by their mutual love of their chosen discipline, it seems only natural that the pair should create something together. And so Beakerhead was born.
Beakerhead brings together a myriad of people in the spirit of learning, innovation, and community. Through different events and activations Beakerhead attendees are encouraged to develop and expand their interest in science in a way that’s accessible and entertaining at the same time. There’s so much to do and see, so I thought I’d break things down by my favorite aspects of the Beakerhead festival.
The easiest way to see everything that Beakerhead had to offer was to walk the streets of the city, eyes peeled for the strange and unusual. Members of the science, business, medical and technological communities all helped turn the city into a scientific playground.
Taking in Calgary’s already picturesque Riverwalk showcased some of the coolest Beakerhead attractions, including the BASS Ship, a mysterious structure that may or may not hold the key to communicating with extra-terrestrial life, and the Saturnian, a cartoonish vessel with state of the art Narwhal technology. A walk to Inglewood lead to a building overtaken by Tentacles. Over in Kensington a Rubbish monster (it’s exactly what you think it is) loomed over onlookers with its googley eyes. Both creations were the brainchildren of British artists Filthy Luker and Pedro Estrellas two of the coolest cats I met at the fest.
Stephen Ave was shut down to traffic from 5-8pm to make way for a plethora of activations. That’s where I met the inventors of Autism Glass, a revolutionary tool that helps parents engage with their autistic children through Google Glass technology. I saw people walk on liquid (through the magical combination of corn starch and water) and where I learned that if you freeze an onion before chopping it, it won’t make you cry (bonus cool points if you use liquid nitrogen).
Central Memorial Park was home to the cutest little baby bunnies, the adorable inflatable offspring of the big bunnies that made their debut in 2015.
We all know that I’m a music addict, so when I discovered how much music was a part of Beakerhead, I took in as many musical events as I could, while enjoying a couple of extra curricular activities along the way. I ventured out to Canada Boy Vinyl, the only record pressing plant in Canada. There I met co-founder and music junkie Dean Reid, who gave me a tour of the plant and showed me how music and vinyl come together.
I visited Recordland, the largest record collection in Canada, where it took all my self-control not to buy all the albums my heart desired. Then, I wrapped up my day of music at Analog Listening Party, coincidentally curated by the music loving staff at Recordland, where audiology experts spoke to a rapt audience about the science of sound and music.
One of Beakerhead’s biggest assets was the people that the festival brought together.
At Gen Next Beakerhead Mingles event I found myself inspired by six founders, engineers and designers who help make the world a better place through innovation. From curing iron deficiency with the Lucky Iron Fish to portable protection solutions from ShelterBox Canada, I was in awe by the generosity and ingenuity in the room.
The Seven Wonderers event was one of my favorites of the week. Seven speakers, all affiliated with science, technology or innovation in one form or another took the stage to regale us listeners with tales from their adventures. Award winning broadcaster Gill Deacon brought tears to my eyes as she shared her poignant personal journey surviving breast cancer. PhD candidate Kori Czuy’s theory of “sensual mathematics” made me wonder if my outlook on math would have changed if I’d had a math teacher like her. And Dr. Christopher Emdin, blew us all away with his passion for science education for urban youth, so much so that he merited an interview of his own, coming out soon!
Truly it was the people I met at Beakerhead that made this festival into the unforgettable experience it was. Festival founders Mary Anne and Jay were inspirational, not only in their love of science and the drive they had to turn Beakerhead into a reality, but in seeing how they supported each other, further inspiring people to rally around them in their pursuit of their passion. They, and their team of volunteers, were who made Beakerhead what it was.
My Beakerhead experience was bookended by two fantastic parties. The first was a celebration of scientific gastronomy called Torched. Taking place at a skate park aptly named The Compound, Torched showcased the best of the best of Calgary’s culinary and cocktail community. Using axes, hammers, huge blocks of ice, planks of wood, and of course, blowtorches, these masters of their crafts put their creativity to work and with the help of a little science, came up with some delicious results. Standout bites came from Darren Maclean from Shokunin with his axe hacked beef tartar (more delectable than you can imagine) and Kenny Kaechele from Workshop Kitchen with his blowtorched prawns. With craft cocktails to wash my eats down with, all that was left was to stand in awe of my surroundings. From beautiful metal work sculptures to a huge crane lifting people above the city, Torched was truly event that dazzled all the senses.
Beakernight was a massive street party that hosted tens of thousands of science lovers in the Bridgeland Neighborhood to celebrate the success of the festival. Live performances, interactive works of art and science, a fantastic food truck selection, and the well-stocked and efficient Beakerbar made this event a delight for all the senses. The happy go lucky, sometimes costumed but always happy party goers was the icing on the party cake.
Great fun, great company, and a great time; Beakernight was the perfect way to end Beakerhead.
To wrap up my Beakerhead saga, all I have to say is GO. Plans for next year’s festival are already underway, and I for one can’t wait to go on this magical ride again.
Check out more awesome photos by the amazing Beakerhead volunteer photographers here.