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Believe it or not, the Science Centre is back

Telus World of Science returns with new Ripley’s exhibit

Edmonton’s space science centre has finally reopened to the public, and it’s brought history’s tallest man with it.

The Edmonton Telus World of Science reopened to the public July 8 after shutting its doors for four months due to the pandemic.

Waiting behind those doors was a menagerie of two-headed cows, gigantic snakes, and bugs made from human hair – all part of the centre’s new feature exhibit, The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

“It is an exploration of really crazy, wacky things that are celebrated by Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” said science centre president Alan Nursall, including a four-legged chicken, a life-sized car made from matchsticks, and portraits of Justin Bieber, Martin Luther King Jr., and Albert Einstein made from candy, stamps and toast (respectively).

“It’s a playful look at the world around us.”

COVID considerations

Nursall said this exhibit was scheduled to open March 19, but the science centre closed due to the pandemic on the 13th. The exhibit’s T-Rex made of tires, beadwork ostrich and albino porcupine have been collecting dust ever since.

The science centre faced twin challenges when it came to reopening, Nursall said. First, most of its exhibits were very hands-on, and you don’t want hundreds of guests touching the same artifacts during a pandemic. Second, the centre had started a two-year $24-million expansion project that has brought scores of workers on site.

“We realized we could not open the full facility,” he said, and that they would not see the usual thousand guests per day.

Instead, the centre will be essentially closed this summer apart from the Ripley’s exhibit and the Imax theatre. Guests will be required to wear masks and to buy timed entry tickets, with just 50 people in the exhibit at any one time. They’ll also enter through the science centre’s side door, as the front is under construction.

The Ripley’s exhibit has also been modified. Kids won’t be able to crawl through the guts of the Titanoboa (a 15-metre-long snake that ate crocodiles), for example, and will be discouraged from touching the meteors and neck rings. They’ll also be issued tongue depressors with which to touch touch-screens and buttons in the exhibit.

Weird science

Guests can still dance in front of an interactive digital painting, pose in the jaws of a megalodon and squint at the microscopic art of Willard Wigan, which includes an owl smaller than the eye of a needle and a unicorn the size of a pin-tip.

They can also see how they stand up height-wise to a statue of Robert Wadlow, the tallest man in recorded history, and then flee in terror as said statue unexpectedly stands up to its full 2.72-metre height.

The exhibit is based on the strange but true facts media personality Robert Ripley popularized in the early 1900s through his Believe It or Not comic strips, museums, films, and TV and radio shows.

The various “curioddities” in the exhibit are meant to get people excited about the world and serve as jumping off points to learn about science, said staff scientist Marie McConnell.

Wadlow was an example of gigantism, for example, which in his case was caused by his overgrown pituitary gland, McConnell said. His height earned him international fame, but also cost him his life at age 22 – his body was too big for his organs to handle.

McConnell said her current favourite part of the exhibit is the interactive food cart, which teaches guests about edible insects.

“Entomophagy is a really great source of protein,” she said of the practice of eating bugs, and is common throughout the world.

McConnell said she’s tried edible bugs herself. The dried crickets were okay, but she didn’t like the caterpillars.

“They squish too much.”

The science centre will be open this summer Wednesdays to Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit telusworldofscienceedmonton.ca for details.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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