Night Lights and Scientific Delights: Nuit blanche at McGill

Published: 3 April 2024
by Phuong Hoang, Faculty of Science Communications Assistant 

True to its name, Montréal’s Nuit blanche is an annual celebration of the vibrant culture of the city, with thematic itineraries and extended business hours that ensure festival-goers a night of endless excitement. From flower printing workshops to ghost story roundtables, Nuit blanche invited Montrealers to share and express their creativity through a diverse range of activities at different locations across Montréal.  

Over many years, the McGill community has become actively involved in this tradition. The 21st edition of Nuit blanche à Montréal, which took place on March 2, included two special events on campus: Nuit blanche at the Redpath Museum and the McGill Chemistry Outreach Group’s Periodic Dreams, a theatrical performance intertwining chemistry with whimsical magic. 

Night at the museum 

Nuit blanche at the Redpath Museum saw the beloved university museum’s lights go dark, transforming the interior into an exhilarating adventure as visitors navigated its contents under the lumination of cell phone flashlights and glow sticks.  

With shadows enveloping the museum’s diverse collection, ranging from Ancient Egyptian amulets to minerals and dinosaur fossils, the museum took on a different life after hours.  

“Before we turn off the lights to welcome visitors, the Museum becomes like a little beehive,” said Annie Lussier, Curator of the World Cultures Collection. “We have to make sure that the way will be free of obstacles, we have to place lighting in strategic locations to subtly illuminate the darkest corners without spoiling the night-time ambiance...and we have to transform the Museum in less than two hours, from closing at 4 p.m. to reopening at 6 p.m.!”  

Their efforts were well worth it in the end: lines were gathered out the door, and attendees varied from young schoolchildren with parents to couples and solo travelers, all of whom were able to leave with an unforgettable, yet educational experience. Some even fully embraced the spirit of the event, adorning themselves in colorful glow-in-the-dark necklaces and exchanging fluorescent minerals illuminated by the UV lights, a truly delightful sight!

There was also another notable special guest appearance at the Redpath from Steampunk Montreal, a local group dedicated to a subgenre of science fiction based on 19th-century steam-powered machinery. Members could be easily distinguished by their matching Victorian-era fashions, including light-up petticoats, top hats, monocles, and gadgets adorned with gears and cogs. Having attended for more than ten years, Steampunk Montreal has become a quirky, inextricable feature of the event, sharing with the community their passion for steampunk and the creative personas and creations that embrace its aesthetic. 

Chemistry takes the stage 

While the Redpath Museum went dark, the Otto Maas Chemistry Building took upon dazzling hues of pink and blue during its showing of Periodic Dreams, a student-led theatrical performance aimed towards chemistry outreach. The show covered the quest of a young chemist stuck in “Dreamworld”, a mysterious and magical land filled with treacherous terrains and challenges, only to be overcome through interactive chemistry experiments. Viewers watched in awe as the demonstrations revealed colorful chemical reactions, as well as intense blazes and explosions. They were able to get in on the adventure themselves, enthusiastically answering questions and even dipping their toes, figuratively and literally, into the science of it all. 

Periodic Dreams was produced by the McGill Chemistry Outreach Group, which interacts with the public and media to foster learning through exciting demonstrations of chemical and physical reactions. The actors were student volunteers from McGill, who had offered their free time for the initiative. Even with busy back-to-back shows, it was all smiles backstage: interactions with audience members, who seemed to revel in the sense of wonder engendered by the show, left crewmembers in positive spirits.  

“We believe that science truly is for everyone," said Dr. Alejandro Blasco Brusola, a postdoctoral fellow in the Faculty of Chemistry and a member of McGill Chemistry Outreach. "One of our main objectives is to awaken a passion for science in even our youngest audience members, and we hope at least one scientist is born in every one of our events.” 

Land Acknowledgement

McGill University is on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations. We acknowledge and thank the diverse Indigenous peoples whose presence marks this territory on which peoples of the world now gather.

The Redpath Museum's director EDI statement.

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