Students Step into Virtual STEM Careers with Let’s Talk Science

2016-06-06

New videos at CurioCity take students to new heights, depths and a virtual world to explore career pathways

Helicopter Virtual Reality Still Capture Image“What do you want to do when you graduate?” It’s a common question that high school students are often asked and wonder themselves. With so many possibilities, the answer isn’t an easy one. If students could experience a career virtually, would that open their minds to further education and help them explore potential career pathways? That’s the question behind Let’s Talk Science’s new “Step into Your STEM Career” series of videos at ExploreCurioCity.org. The videos invite students to a 360-degree immersive experience of three exciting STEM careers using cell phones and virtual reality viewers. The results have been awe-inspiring.

Let’s Talk Science unveiled the new videos to high school students at various events across Canada this spring. “Wow”, “That’s amazing,” and “It’s so real” were just a few of the remarks from astounded students who co-piloted a helicopter, explored a deep palladium mine in Northern Ontario, and enjoyed an exclusive look inside Ubisoft Toronto’s digital motion capture studio—all without venturing from their chairs.

Let’s Talk Science worked with Jocie Bentley, an innovative film maker who created the videos for students and educators to help engage career discussions and explore career pathways in the classroom. We caught up with Jocie (JB) to chat about the project:

Q: What’s unique about the location of these videos?

Mining Virtual Reality Still CaptureJB: We wanted to choose visually stunning locations that students had never seen before. One of the videos features a palladium mine just north of Thunder Bay, thanks to help from the Ontario Mining Association. The staff took us down nearly a kilometer underground to film. We were ushered onto the back of an open truck, and we wound our way down through the dark. If you’ve never been in a mine, you’ll have to check this one out.

Another video puts students into the cockpit of a helicopter. They get a bird’s eye view of the airport in Waterloo, Ontario, where Great Lakes Helicopter trains new pilots. Before making this video, I’d never been in a helicopter before. I had no idea how shaky they were! We had to shoot this sequence three times to get it right.

The third video shows students how motion capture specialists at Ubisoft Toronto record movement in their studio using infrared cameras. They use the information to create realistic movement for gameplay. All of the animation you see in this video was done in one day – these guys are quick! The 360 degree technology we’ve used in making these videos is likely something the gaming industry will be among the first to exploit.

Did you know?

Thunder Bay, Ontario is home to one of the few palladium mines in the world—the others being in Russia, South Africa and the United States. Palladium is largely used in catalytic converters in car exhaust systems that convert pollutant gases into less harmful ones.

Q: How did you capture the footage for these Let’s Talk Science STEM career videos?

Ubisoft Virtual Reality Still Capture ImageJB: The videos were all shot with a virtual reality rig, which is essentially a big sphere with seven Go-Pro cameras all recording at once. We were initially going to mount the rig on a helmet to create the ‘day in the life’ experience, but we were warned that it would nauseate our viewers. My cinematographer, James, had the idea to mount our rig on Steadicam, and we may be the first virtual reality video to try it! We haven’t made anyone sick yet, but the jury is still out…  

Q: What kind of STEM careers can students discover from these videos?

JB: The videos can really open up conversations among students about STEM careers and the skills and education they’ll need. Students get to see, for example, how a geologist is like a treasure hunter, working with a team of engineers to find palladium deposits deep below the surface. We’re at the forefront of emerging technologies that students can help lead if they continue their STEM learning and skill development.

Q: How did you choose your STEM career as a filmmaker?

JB: Film is my first love. I’m a huge fan of disaster films and science fiction, so I went to Ryerson for their film program. I came out determined to make science movies, but quickly realized I actually knew nothing about science. I needed to go back to school. One mountain of student debt later, I earned my BSc from U of T in neuroscience. Today, being able to combine science and film is a dream. An aspect of STEM that I really like about my career is experimenting. I’ve never shot virtual reality before. Everything we were doing was new so that challenge made these videos a really exciting project.

Q: What advice would you give students thinking about their career options?

JB: The career opportunities in mining, aviation and gaming are wide open and equal for men and women. My advice for women: just go for it. There are no large barriers to entry or success. I think we should be promoting STEM career pathways more for women. I’d tell students to stay in science…and it’s always possible to go back to school.

View these videos, along with related career profiles

 Let’s Talk Science would like to thank the following organizations for their assistance and support for the creation of these videos:

Let’s Talk Science’s Visionary Funders:

Government of CanadaTrottier

Thank you also to:

Samsung Canada, Great Lakes Helicopters, North American Palladium, and Ubisoft Toronto.