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The New Science Centre, Calgary, Alberta

TELUS Spark, the New Science Centre.

A New Kind of Science Centre

Opened to the public in October 2011, TELUS Spark is Canada's first new purpose-built science centre in more than 25 years. An impressive building of 153,000 square feet in size, TELUS Spark features four main exhibit galleries, a Creative Kids museum, and Calgary's first HD Digital Dome Theatre. Along with the new facility is a new approach for a science centre: exhibits at TELUS Spark are designed to ignite curiosity by encouraging the audience to play and explore new activities.

TELUS Spark Open Studio
'Take It Apart' is an area where visitors can take toys apart.

Aesthetec was involved in the exhibit design and fabrication process for the four exhibit halls for all of 2010 and 2011. During the design phase, we created several working prototypes, many of which became permanent and featured exhibits in the galleries. In addition to individual exhibits, we also created a system of customized electronics to power over 27 exhibits across all four halls. Our system of custom electronics standardizes components that are needed to drive communication between bespoke sensors, displays, and computers, in turn making it easier for the science centre to maintain these exhibits in the long term.

Customized LED signage
Customized LED signage

Custom controller circuit
Custom controller circuit board.

New Musical Interfaces

Our favourite type of projects are the ones that make light and sound. Aesthetec created four different musical exhibits for TELUS Spark, all of which have unique interaction and soundscapes:

1. Looping Table

A touch-sensitive table with hexagonal light pattern that produces musical loop, letting kids and adults alike become virtual DJs.

Looping Table
Looping Table

2. Paint with Music

A painterly interface that lets user make music while virtually painting onto a canvas. Each colour represents a different instrument, which the user can switch by dipping their light pen into the virtual paint cans.

Paint with Music
Paint with Music

3. Solar Panel Music Wall

Multiple users can create an orchestra by shining lights onto a grid of solar panels. Each panel is mapped to note in a scale.

Solar Panel Music
Solar Panel Music Wall

4. Shadow Rock

Create a jam by rocking out together with your shadows.

Shadow Rock
Shadow Rock

Physical Interface for Digital System

Several of the hands-on exhibits in TELUS Spark is designed to not have a screen, yet provided an experience that can only be driven by electronics. We created solutions for many of these exhibits, for example:

Electricity Grid

This exhibit is a challenge for the user to try to balance the electricity load in a neighborhood of 17 houses and four power stations. User supplies the electricity load to the house by connecting the cable between the house and power station. Each house draws a different amount of power, and drawing too much from one station would cause a brown-out. Each time the puzzle is completed, the game will randomize the houses so that the puzzle is never the same twice. Aesthetec created a custom sensor circuits including high-brightness LED drivers and embedded the game logic into the circuit to make the exhibit run without using a computer.

Electricty Grid
Electricty Grid

Hidden LED Wall

The exterior wall of Energy and Innovation hall is a simple wooden structure with peculiar hand crank attached to it without any instruction. Some visitors will walk by without noticing the crank. Those who do notice and stop to check it out, however, find a delightful surprise after the handle is cranked a few turns...

LED Wall Off
The wall with a single crank, looking in from the atrium

LED Wall
Fully lit from behind the wood veneer

Fully Customized Exhibits

Find Your Voice

In 'Find Your Voice' the user is directed to record their voice saying a phrase on the screen. Once recorded, the system will 'hide' their voice into one of the speakers, and playback all the sounds of different people saying the same phrase. It is an exercise to see how hard or easy it is to pick out one's own voice in a crowd.

For this exhibit, Aesthetec provided the sound recording and playback mechanism using our custom designed mp3 player circuits. Each speaker is associated to a single board, which can play back, record, and respond to a computer command. This provided a simple way to control each of the 30 speakers individually.

Find Your Voice
Find Your Voice


In early 2011, Aesthetec designed and created a prototype of a magnetic generator which uses human motion to generate electricity. The generator created electricity by using a flywheel to pass strong earth magnets over coils of wire, and in turn using the generated power to light up enough LEDs to create a persistence-of-vision display.

At TELUS Spark, three of these magnetic generators stand at the entrance of the Energy & Innovation hall, each one has a different mechanism for creating electricity: a hand crank, a pump, and a treadmill. Aesthetec worked closely with the exhibit fabricator throughout the production phase to bring these generators to life. The circuit boards are completely customized, and the persistence of vision display features red, green, and blue LEDs rather than a single strip of LED.



More photos from TELUS Spark & Behind the scenes photos



TELUS Spark exhibit developers and design team

Exhibit Fabrication
Art Guild, Huettinger Exhibition Enginneering, House of Kevin, Expographiq

A/V Integration
Sharp's Audio Visual

Freelance Developer
Willy Chyr

Ryan Varga