Another Great Science Field Trip: the VanScienceSocial 2017

Inside the hyperbaric chamber

Recently I was invited to attend my second science field trip, aka the VanScienceSocial, hosted by Science World. This is fast becoming one my favorite annual events since it combines a lot of stuff that I love: science, technology and new experiences. This year was no different.

The goggles…they do nothing!

My invitation came with this strange VR headset…but it didn’t seem to work…just showed still frames. Whatever. Time to get on the bus.

Last year, we spent a good chunk of time at UBC. This time around, we headed up Burnaby Mountain to SFU to visit a number of their labs and projects.

Our first stop was the Environmental Medicine and Physiology Unit where about half of the group chose to go into the hyperbaric chamber.

This imposing machinery is used for a number of medical procedures and commonly used to help divers decompress after lengthy underwater dives. After meeting with an onsite doctor, our group got changed into scubs and we got into the tank. The plan was to ‘travel’ to the equivalent pressure depth of 150 ft below the surface. The trip took about 15 minutes to pressurize and get to the ‘bottom’ where we spent a few minutes in the high pressure environment.

I probably watch too many science shows so expected that when we got to the bottom, our voices would be different due to the air pressure in the tank. We basically talked like a snapchat filter (aka chipmunks) but I think most of my fellow ‘travellers’ weren’t expecting that. We had all mostly just met and then were fairly quiet on the ride down. As soon as someone spoke though, the floodgates were open and we couldn’t stop laughing.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to bring any cameras into the chamber (my photos were taken before we were pressurized) but Stephen captured us on the closed circuit tv inside the chamber:

A post shared by Stephen Fung (@stephenfung) on

It was a very cool experience…I kept thinking about the scene in the movie, The Abyss, where a bunch of marines go to an underwater station and one of them snaps while under pressure…it’s a little hard to tell from this shot but note the familiar tank they are in:

Fortunately, Michael Kwan didn’t snap and we made it back to the surface just fine.

After returning to the ‘surface’, we were again checked out by the doctor and given a special wristband in case there were any issues from being under pressure. Everyone checked out fine.

Our next stop was the Neurokinesiology lab just around the corner. This lab had a number of projects and experiments for us to see and try including listening to our muscles with special equipment, a split leg treadmill (different speeds for each leg). My favorite was the bionic exoskeleton being developed for the US Army to power soldiers while in the field who are off the grid.

These essentially work the same way regenerative brakes do in an electric vehicle. Each leg has a battery that is charged by the motions your leg does while walking/running. Science World has a Made in Canada exhibit right now (more on that in a bit) that shows off a more complete version of the exoskeleton that look pretty badass in cammo:

With this on, you could charge your phone (and a lot more) all day while just walking around. The work at SFU is to reduce the size/weight on these.

Next up was the Ruffs aviary which is just a few minutes walk from the labs.

Here we learned about the research into the various habits of these birds. Ironically, our guide’s first name was Dove.

Unfortunately, the clouds opened up on us during our visit to the aviary so we didn’t spend a lot of time outside with the birds as it was just pouring down rain.

So we went inside and checked out the incubation lab.

Our last stop at SFU was to the Trottier Observatory. Since it was raining (and the daytime) we didn’t get to look through their telescopes but it was still a fun place to visit and learn about projects and programs there.

The open the observatory to the public a few nights a month. Check out their website to see when the next opportunity is.

We jumped back on the bus to head back to Science World and finish the field trip with a tour through their fantastic Made in Canada exhibit.

I don’t want to spoil the full exhibit since there are some very surprising items on display that I didn’t realize were made by Canadians. Suffice to say, it’s worth the trip to Science World to check out. My favorite time to go (aside from the field trip) is their After Dark events if you want to leave the kids at home.

Sunset view from Science World

Like the After Dark event, I really wish Science World (or someone) offered these kinds of science-themed field trips for the public (kids or not). I think they would be insanely popular and people would pay to go on them. That’s my only issue with the VanScienceSocial – it’s almost too exclusive of an event since only a few of us get to do and experience the things mentioned above. But some of these places/labs wouldn’t get any work done if there was a constant tour going through and I’m not sure how scalable it would be.

That said, I can’t wait to see what they come up with for next year’s field trip!

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