Brain dome aims to teach Yukon youth about mental health, toxic drugs

An immersive experience dome has been set up at Yukon University for school groups.  (Mike Thomas - image credit)
An immersive experience dome has been set up at Yukon University for school groups. (Mike Thomas - image credit)

A giant dome in the middle of the gymnasium at Yukon University provides a one-hour, immersive experience designed to educate youth about the human brain, alcohol, drugs, and the toxic drug crisis.

The installation is a collaboration between Whitehorse-based IRP Consulting and an organization called Big Art, based in Calgary.

Tosh Southwick is the founder of IRP Consulting.

"We met Paul Magnuson, who lives and breathes immersive experiences and said show us what you got. He showed us this dome and we said, we've got to bring it north."

The dome, and all that's in it, has been made in the Yukon — including a musical land acknowledgement as well of images and video of land, water and people.

"The dome has two components that makes it special," said Magnuson, the "chief imagineer" with Big Art.

"One is the projection liner, a bright white fabric that lines the whole dome and then we have a black-out cover up top. It blocks out all the ambient light, and inside we can project in 360 degrees."

tosh southwick paul magnuson
tosh southwick paul magnuson

Tosh Southwick (left) and Paul Magnuson (right) pose for a picture inside the geodisic dome. (Leonard Linklater/CBC)

Magnuson said the sound and video aims to make the person experiencing it feel part of a new world.

While the experience is tailored to youth between the ages of 12 and 18 — because of their vulnerability to peer pressure and potential experimentation with substances.

Right now, it's not open to the public, but it is open for school groups and will be open for participants of the Yukon Youth Summit this week.

"Some of the content is very science-driven and it can be quite dry. When you're watching this in a classroom with a Power Point on a flat screen, it may be tough to retain some of that information," says Magnuson. "But when you're here and you're immersed in it and you are feeling the impact of this environment, it's much easier to retain."

While the goal is to make the information easy to absorb, the experience itself is not necessarily meant to be easy or comfortable.

"We don't want to make it easy on them," says Southwick. "We want to show them the truth of what happens to their brain if they choose to experiment with drugs."

The dome will be set up at Yukon U for the next week.