Opening Dal's doors

Visitors flock to campus for Doors Open Halifax

Kevin Bradley - June 13, 2014

A young visitor to the Steele Ocean Sciences Building gets her face painted. (Nick Pearce photos)

From brains to bottom-feeding crustaceans, there was plenty to see at Dal during this year’s Doors Open Halifax.

This past Saturday and Sunday, Haligonians and tourists were able to get a sampling of what goes on inside two of Dalhousie’s newest research facilities, as the Steele Ocean Sciences Building (which gained its new name on Monday) and the Life Sciences Research Institute were both open to visitors.

The event, organized by the Doors Open Halifax Heritage Society, is based around offering free access to the city’s buildings, particularly ones with historical, contemporary or architectural significance. Last year, Dalhousie opened three of its buildings for the two-day event — Shirreff Hall, the University Club and the School of Architecture’s Medjuck Building — showcasing some of the university’s best architecture and its oldest halls.

This year, Dalhousie opted to show off its newest and most innovative research facilities, with almost 2,000 people coming to campus for the event over the course of the weekend.

Exploring the oceans


Visitors to the Steele Ocean Sciences Building were guided through the lobby and up to the second level atrium where students, researchers and other ocean scientists and professionals had set up booths and displays.

The sea life attractions included an impressive humpback whale vertebrate, a harbor seal skull and a pilot whale skull. Ocean measuring devices and tools were also available for visitors to see including the Ocean Tracking Network’s waveglider, a marine research drone. Also on display was Oceanviewer, a real-time online browser of ocean conditions.



The most popular attraction was the Aquatron, one of the world’s leading indoor aquatic research facilities and the largest such facility in Canada. The facility’s large pool tank was open to the public, with Dal students on hand to answer questions and explain their own research and involvement in the facility.

“The largest animal we’ve had in this tank is a beluga whale,” one student explained to a curious family. “But we’ve also had seals and other small marine mammals and fish. We’re able to control a variety of conditions for different animals, including water temperature and salinity.”



The building was particularly popular with families, and other activities included a face-painting booth and marine animal touch tanks.

Innovative research in an innovative building


A short walk away — during which participants could follow Dal’s self-guided walking tour — the Life Sciences Research Institute (LSRI) was also welcoming guests throughout the weekend.

The LSRI was opened in 2011 in partnership with Capital Health, the IWK Health Centre and Innovacorp, and now hosts over 100 researchers and physicians. Visitors were able to explore the atrium and meet with some of the groups who call the building home.



The Brain Repair Centre set up a prominent display featuring nervous system tissue samples under a microscope and a whole brain and spinal cord, which visitors were allowed to explore with the guidance of graduate students from the Department of Medical Neuroscience. Various lab equipment, such as solution shakers and test tube inverters, were also on display.

The atrium also featured research posters from Dalhousie medical neuroscience labs and researchers, including the lab of Vic Rafuse’s lab, renowned for its work on motor neuron regeneration in ALS patients.



Some of the public who dropped by were interested in the LSRI's innovative architecture and engineering. The building is certified LEED silver, with building materials recycled from the region, efficient energy consumption and an architectural design that promotes natural daylight over the need for artificial lighting. The LSRI’s designers, Architecture 49, were present during Doors Open Halifax to discuss the many green features and contemporary design elements of the building.

Many of the visitors were sharing the sights on social media, tweeting photos of themselves in the hope of winning a Dal prize pack. Check out our Storify for some of the highlights.

For more information about Doors Open Halifax, including this year and last year’s venues, visit doorsopenhalifax.com.


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