‘Welcoming, accessible, enjoyable’: What a Guelph science centre could possibly be

Joanne O’Meara and her daughter/apprentice witch, Mara, lecturing at the Let’s Talk Science School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in 2019.

  • Patrons enjoy meteorite-infused beer during the Science on Tap talk, presented by Royal City Science at Brothers Brewing on June 1, 2022.

Royal City Science (RCS) is an organization that was founded on a vision, and while the realization of that vision may still be a long way off, their recent acquisition of charitable status brings it a little closer.

“The big push now is to really kick some fundraising into gear,” says Joanne O’Meara, a University of Guelph physics professor and one of the organization’s co-founders.

O’Meara and fellow physics professor Jason Thomas — more commonly known as Orbax — officially launched Royal City Science in November 2020. Their vision? To build on the science outreach they were already doing by creating a science centre in Guelph that would serve as a hub for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.

“We have an art gallery, we have a performing arts centre, we have amazing sports facilities; why don’t we have a science centre?” says O’Meara.

To get the idea off the ground, they reached out to other organizations and community leaders and soon had a steering committee with representatives from various sectors.

One early supporter was Innovation Guelph (IG), which provided a grant to help the organization get started and contributed members to the steering committee.

“Innovation Guelph believes that science is important for future entrepreneurs,” IG director of operations Margaret Strybosch said in an email, describing why the organization opted to support Royal City Science.

“RCS also wanted to put a focus on sustainability with science,” she said. “IG believes sustainability is very important to the next phase of economic growth.”

In addition to providing alternative programming for children and teens, a science centre would support the city’s environmental consciousness, and it would benefit Guelph’s tourism sector, said Strybosch.

But while a brick-and-mortar science centre is the ultimate goal, the current reality looks a little different.

O’Meara and Orbax launched Royal City Science during the pandemic, at a time when any outreach activities that were still happening had moved online.

They started the organization as an online hub, meant to be a place where local STEM organizations could promote upcoming events and activities, and community members could connect to virtual programming.

Over the Christmas holidays they ran a “Solar System Stroll.”

The activity was designed to be self-guided and to encourage people to explore the city — finding the sites representing objects in the solar system — while also learning about space.

“It was really great. We had over 2,600 website visits,” says O’Meara, who has been doing public outreach for more than 20 years.

Lately much of that work — including a YouTube video series of science experiments kids can try at home, and a physics blog called “Wonder Why” — has been online. But the hope is to see Royal City Science increasing its in-person activities soon.

Among this programming is the “Science on Tap” series of talks, each instalment of which was held at a different local brewery or pub, highlighting the fact that Royal City Science is not just for kids.

With topics that range from meteorites to organ donation to ground water, the series also highlight’s the organization’s goal of covering a diverse range of science disciplines.

“We just want something that is welcoming, accessible, fun,” O’Meara says of the vision for the centre.

The Science on Tap series was also the launch of a meteorite-infused beer by Wellington Brewery, a portion of the sales of which supported Royal City Science.

The beer sold out quickly, says O’Meara, but people who want to support the organization can make a donation through their website, royalcityscience.ca. With the organization having secured charitable status in April, tax receipts can now be issued to donors.

In the meantime, O’Meara says the organization is working to put together some interactive travelling exhibits that could be taken to schools or events.

The hope is “to engage people to give them an idea what we will do, can do, when we have a physical space,” she said.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: With fundraising projects and in-person events for Royal City Science getting underway, the Mercury Tribune wanted to learn more about this initiative and let people know how they could support it.

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