- December 16, 2019 - Space for Life
This past November 15, hundreds of curious people stepped through the doors of the Planétarium Rio Tinto Alcan to meet, face to face and in an informal way, the roughly 60 scientists recruited for the first-ever Researchers’ Night to take place in North America. Here’s a visit behind the scenes of that extraordinary event.
6:15 p.m. Everyone’s getting in the mood at a little spot in the Planétarium basement. You can feel the excitement! Badges are handed out to those taking part. In less than 45 minutes, people now munching on pizza will be chatting with the public, person to person and without any formality. The concept of the event is based on this simple principle: create opportunities to exchange thoughts with scientists in a fun and relaxed atmosphere, and in a way that breaks down the invisible walls between “scholars” and the rest of us. For the space of one evening, everyone’s on equal footing. As project manager, I provide last-minute advice at a briefing that’s equal parts laughter and emotion. We’re all set!
7:00 p.m. And we’re off! Visitors make their way in by the dozen. Most of them head straight to Speed dating. A first cohort of ten researchers are lying in wait to have express tête-à-têtes. Our lab-coated volunteers guide participants to tables, and the giant stopwatch gets turned on. The meager light reflected on the tables and the sounds chosen by DJ Lydia Képinski mean that visitors and scientists have to get close to hear one another properly. It’s amazing to witness the intensity of the seven-minute conversations taking place one after the other until midnight, almost without a break.
Stroke of genius
Gathered together in a single room, another twenty or so researchers have taken out, not their finest assets, but their finest…field equipment or lab instruments! In the afternoon, the central characters in the “Pièce à convictions” activity had to shift a mountain of material to the Planétarium: light traps for insects, entomology drawers, a four-foot tree trunk and a Pressler’s increment borer (that’s a kind of drill, for those in the know), chemical glassware, a spectrometer, a catapult for sampling trees, a 3D flower scanner and much more. In the course of the evening, these objects lose some of their mystery for visitors, who get a chance to handle them while chatting with the scientists.
Bons coups, bad coups!
8:00 p.m. Mass movement towards the Chaos Theatre, transformed into a lounge for the show titled Bons coups, bad coups! (Good Moves, Bad Moves!). Taking the stage are science journalist and host Marianne Desautels-Marissal, followed by scientists Olivier Hernandez and Nathalie Rose Le François. With humor, humility and astonishing ease, the two researchers happily play along and deliver, “in an intimate session” with 180 visitors, the sometimes less glorious moments of their careers. After intermission, the bad-move ball kicks off again with Maxim Larrivée and Michel Labrecque. One participant tells me a little later that she thought the performances would have fit right in at a comedy show!
Did you miss the event this year? Marianne’s impeccable contributions and the researchers’ surprising and hilarious stories are now available on Savoir.média.
You had to love it
An imposing giant Lite Brite shines at the center of the attractions. On the interactive apparatus, adults take turns with children, colored pegs in hand. Those images give off a feeling that accurately represents what’s happened on this very first Researchers’ Night: a festive and colorful get-together is born, and true connections between the public and researchers have taken place. A success from every standpoint!
For your agenda: the 2nd edition of Researchers’ Night will be taking place on November 13, 2020.