World’s greatest arts-science smash-up

Canada (Calgary)

Science and engineering is the most fascinating story on earth in the hands of the right storyteller. 

“It’s in the freely shared ideas that collisions, oddities and thrills emerge”

Widely known as ‘the world’s greatest arts-science smash-up’, Beakerhead is a wacky and delightful place where STEAM gets smashed up into a trippy, educational marvel. How about a fire-breathing serpent mother, inflatable octopus, trash robot, giant brain and singing astronaut, for a start?

Science broadcaster Jay Ingram and journalist and award-winning designer Mary Anne Moser are on a mission to “make science fun again.” They founded Beakerhead in 2013 and today the year-long programme with workshops, build days, school and apprenticeship programmes, culminates in an annual five-day spectacle every September in downtown Calgary, Canada.

“Imagine a 40-feet high octopus breathing fire out of eight tentacles,” Mary bubbles over, “but on closer inspection it’s made from baking sheets and muffin tins!”

The first year featured a special appearance from Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who sang David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ on the space station, and Daniel J Levitin, who wrote This Is Your Brain On Music. This year UK physicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell will be there. She discovered the radio pulsars back in 1967 (no biggie).

“‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ is the funniest installation we have ever done. In Calgary the Olympics were held in 1988. People are still excited and have paraphernalia, so we put a hot tub on the main pedestrian mall of Calgary and filled it with hot water, an actor, a scientist and a quantum physicist. They explained the technological advancements of 1988.”

Mary Anne and Jay want to create a ripple effect – by attracting the attention of people who might not otherwise be interested in the crossroads where art, science and engineering intersect. The couple have created a passionate brainstorming programming team called the ‘Creative Council’ to get together for “exuberant expressions of ingenuity”. Now they are developing more of a year-round presence and a business to sustain it all to ever-widen the circle.

“Culture and creativity are like plasma for the cells. It’s the connecting fluid that makes the many parts work together. We are a social organism – us humans – and we have to work on the culture and creativity that connects us in order to keep it healthy.”

FutureLeague interview ► We spoke to Mary Anne about bamboozlement, creativity, magic and curiosity

The Beakerhead collective ► Enter the magical, curious world of Beakerhead

AtlasAction ► Build, create, collaborate: get involved on


Main header photo: Trevor Lalonde | Other photos: Kelly-Hofer

Written by

Lisa Goldapple, Editor, Atlas of the Future (27 August 2018)

Project leader

Jay Ingram and Mary Anne Moser


This project has been selected as part of CultureFutures, a new storytelling project that maps creative and cultural projects with a social mission – and the artists, collectives and entrepreneurs behind them.

Atlas of the Future is excited to join forces with Goldsmiths Institute of Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship and the British Council Creative Economy.

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Photo: Gilles Thibault

Photo: David Kotsibie

Photo: Trevor Lalonde

Photo: Trevor Lalonde

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