This past Tuesday I took a trip out to UTIAS to see a former professor of mine (and now fourth-year project supervisor, but more on that later). What does such a fancy acronym like UTIAS stand for, you might ask? It is the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies. Even though I am no longer in Aerospace Engineering, I still have very fond thoughts for UTIAS. I find the building very inspiring. The whole place has an ambience of intellectual excitement and scientific daring that makes me want to do something profound (while it is invigorating, that feeling alone, unfortunately, does not actually yield something profound... at least not yet). Unfortunately, UTIAS is rather difficult to get to, being an awkward 22km away from the University of Toronto main campus and not on a subway line (instead it is a rather long subway trip to the end of the line, and then a further bus ride from there). If you poke around the website for a while, you might see them claim that it is only a 30-45 minute commute by transit from the main campus to UTIAS, and you might think, "for a city the size of Toronto, that's not so bad". Well, I don't think that whoever wrote that part of the website actually took the trip from main campus to UTIAS by transit. The subway trip alone is 45 minutes, and that is assuming your train actually goes all the way to Downsview (the last station) and doesn't instead dump you at Wilson (the second to last stop, where my train for some reason decided it was as far north as it needed to go). Then, assuming you have perfect timing and manage to snag the bus just before it leaves the station, you have another 15-30 minutes (depending on traffic).
Anyway, aside from being hard to get to, you also cannot just show up and waltz about the place. Unlike the main campus, where very few places are locked up, you cannot access the main building without a key card or without buzzing the front desk and signing in. However, if you have a legitimate reason to be there, the institute is very nice. There are a ping-pong and pool table in the cafeteria, a very nice lounge, lots of offices, and even more fancy pictures of space and spacecraft (some real, others rather fanciful... although I haven't yet seen a picture of any of the various incarnations of Enterprise, I wouldn't be surprised if there is one somewhere in the building). Also, I'm not quite sure what it is, but the entire place exudes an ambience of the 50s-70s, when lots of money was spent on scientific endeavours and being a scientist was seen as important, daunting, and wonderful (this is how I still see science, but it doesn't seem to be a normal view. Of course, this is probably just a romanticized view of the Cold War era I have garnered through movies like October Sky).
While I know it would be disruptive for those working at UTIAS, I wish they offered public tours. Between the wind tunnels, the Mars dome, the giant flight simulators, the micro satellite lab, and all the other research areas, I think UTIAS would be a wonderful outing for a family visiting Toronto. So, if you are visiting Toronto and are interested in aerospace, try sending someone at UTIAS an email and ask if you can have a tour. You never know, if you sound excited enough they might let you in.