Exploring the Science of the Greatest Show on Earth
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Exploring the Science of the Greatest Show on Earth

Opening at the Science Centre: an exhibition devoted to the science of the circus.

Circus! The Exhibition
Ontario Science Centre (770 Don Mills Road)
May 9–September 3
Free with admission ($20 adult/$16 student)

The Ontario Science Centre wants you to run away and join the circus. Or, at very least, explore the science of it. Today marks the opening of “Circus! The Exhibition,” which combines math, physics, and anatomy to educate visitors about both the illusion and the reality of circus arts.

While really more suited to the child with us than the child within us, adults too can have a good time exploring the 20 interactive exhibits. Donna Francis, a researcher and programmer with the Ontario Science Centre, says there’s something for everyone.

“For example, if you want to find out if you have what it takes to be a circus performer, there are things that you can try to learn about the key elements that make a tightrope walker successful,” Francis explains. “Being able to try this is pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.”

According to Francis, mastering the high wire is all about balance, and a lot of practice. Your centre of balance must be over the wire and stay steady, and tightrope walkers must rely on their vision, hearing, and feet to get the feedback necessary to maintain that.

The high wire at the exhibit is made of the same material that circus performers walk across, and while the physical experience is very real, so is the safety. A harness ensures that your inner daredevil can be safely let loose while you live out your circus-joining fantasy. At just nine feet off the ground, it is unlikely that anything catastrophic could occur, but it is easy to get swept up in the spirit of the danger by gazing out the plate-glass window overlooking the Don River. Now it seems a little higher.

For those who prefer something a bit closer to the ground, a 20×20-inch contortionist’s box allows for a taste of the circus life without the heart palpitations. That is, unless you’re claustrophobic. An attempt to squeeze into the small space allows visitors to explore the art of packanatomicalization (fitting your body into very small spaces) and test their muscle flexibility and the elasticity of their collagen fibres.

The exhibition was developed, designed, and fabricated on-site by staff of the Ontario Science Centre, and has travelled to science centres, museums, and institutions throughout North America since its creation in 2001. It will be here throughout the summer.