My STEMfest experience

I recently returned from a fantastic (week-long) STEMfest hosted by Stardust and Launch Canada in Cochrane, Ontario (A town in Nothern Ontario which is the Birthplace of Tim Hortons).This was my second visit to Cochrane; the first was six months earlier, in February. I learned a lot about the Canadian Aerospace industry, space exploration, and outreach during the STEMfest, so I thought it would be a good idea to memorialize the event.

First and foremost, I want to express my gratitude to Western University’s Institute for Earth and Space Exploration for providing me with an opportunity to accompany a remarkable group of individuals and participate in Outreach. Here are some of the highlights of my experience:

I was mostly in charge of the telescopes (provided by Cronyn Observatory), and thus most exciting aspect of the event for me was setting up a Solar telescope and having people gaze at the Sun through it. The beautiful solar flares and sunspots observed via the telescope astounded everyone. If you are wondering, it is Coronado by Meade SolarMax II 90mm Solar Telescope. It’s an H-aplha telescope which means it will block 99% of visible light and only let H-alpha – a special red light – to enter, explaining why the Sun appears red when seen through this telescope.

We set up the solar scope three times that week, and the plan was to also set up the telescope at night as well – we had a 6″ Newtonian reflector telescope with us, but it was cloudy most of the week, so the telescope couldn’t view Cochrane’s sky! I know from my last visit to Cochrane in winter that if the cloud cover had been low, I would have spent hours just marvelling at the starry sky. Were the Northern Lights visible? Unfortunately, all we could see was the Moon and clouds!

I’ve got some bragging rights: Sylvain Laporte, the former and longest serving President of the Canadian Space Agency, and his wife were impressed with the Soalrscope and loved the sungazing! I’m honoured to meet them and set up the Solarscope for them in the evening!

The Launch Canada Rocket Competition was the Festival’s draw. It’s an undergraduate rocket competition between many Canadian universities, including UofT, UBC, UVic, McMaster, Queens, ETS , York U and a few more. It was the first time in almost 40 years that Canada launched into space from its home country.

The launches were scattered out over a few of days since everyone was waiting for the clouds to clear so they could launch. Phil (@philregphotography) took these great pictures.

Credit: Philregphotography

It is great to learn about Launch Canada’s initiative, and the opportunities and support it has provided to the youth of Canada for advancement in Rocketry. I am also impressed by the thoughfulness behind the prizes for the competition. Along with trophies and cash prizes for the winners, they also had fun awards: a spirit Bear for the team that shows team spirit, sportsmanship and a positive attitude throughout the event. Also, accepting that ‘rockets always don’t work as we want them to’ they got some special awards: For the best catastrophic failure, they had the death star award and given that the launch site had small waterbodies around it, they had splashdown awards as well(including a floating duck).

Above all, they had a Grand prize for the competition’s overall winner!

The results are announced on Launch Canada’s Youtube Channel.

Also, it was an honour to meet and network with Aerospace experts. Among those present were representatives from the Canadian Space Agency, MDA, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, and Blue Origin.

Not only did they discuss the exciting future of humans in space, but I also like their humorous approach to describing obstacles in the aerospace business, such as 

“You know the rocket is ready to lift-off when the weight of its paperwork exceeds the weight of the rocket itself.”

It’s just a fun way of saying that building and launching rockets necessitates a lot of paperwork! (primarily based on safety regulations).

Another one: 

“Rocket Science is difficult, but getting money for your Rocket Science is much more difficult.”

Collaboration over competition attitude of Canadian Aerospace community is noteworthy.

Other than the STEM fun, I got to see Polar bears (again!). Cochrane is home to Polar bear Habitat which takes care of 3 adorable polar bears: Ganuk, Henry and Inukshuk. The Polar Bear Habitat functions as a rescue and rehabilitation center for polar bears in need. Here’s a few pictures I took during the recent trip (August) and also from my last trip in february. If you’re in Northern Ontario, you should absolutely stop by.

After a year of living in Southern Ontario, I can state that Northern Ontario is an entirely different experience. I’ve been there in both the summer and winter, and Cochrane is simply stunning. The lovely lake in this photo, I couldn’t believe it was the same lake that was completely covered in snow and ice and we were walking on it and enjoying Winter Carnival ON the lake. I’m amazed by how the community not only gets used to freezing conditions (like -40C), but also comes out to enjoy it as winter carnival. Spending time by the lake in the summer is an experience that most big cities cannot offer.

Fun fact: You know you’re in up North in Canada when everything is written in French first, then in English.

Overall, an incredible experience!

Phil got some wonderful pictures of me with the telescope, which I’ll publish here once I get access to them! So come back later 🙂

Here are a few resources if you would like to follow up and read more:

Hope you had a good time reading this!