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Franco Mariotti makes natural science simple

by Vicki Gilhula Franco Mariotti has been translating natural science into everyday English for visitors to Science North since it opened more than two decades ago.
Franco Mariotti is a member of the creative team that developed the Ends of the Earth project, which opened at Science North in March. Mariotti (below left photo) far left as a young boy, and (below right photo) his parents who came to Canada from Italy.

by Vicki Gilhula

Franco Mariotti has been translating natural science into everyday English for visitors to Science North since it opened more than two decades ago. He has also made hundreds of presentations to community groups, and was co-host of the Down to Earth television show for six years.

His role as a communicator and interpreter comes naturally to him. When he was a child growing up in Copper Cliff, his Italian mother was a seamstress. He served as translator for her English speaking customers.

The 2007 Community Builders Award of Excellence recognizes his efforts in educating people about the environment and in promoting awareness of the need to love it and take care of it.

He says his immigrant parents would be very pleased to know their son was being recognized by their adopted community for his contributions in making it a better place to live.

Mariotti, 53, was born in post-war Italy. He was eight when he moved to Canada with his mother, Tilde, and an older sister. His father, Goliardo, a barber, had flown to Canada the year before to seek a better life for his family.

The young Italian boy, who knew only a few words of English, was put behind a couple of years in school. But it didn’t take him long to catch up with the help of some patient teachers.

While attending Copper Cliff High School, he received a Montessori Club scholarship to visit  Europe and Africa for a month.

The experience “opened up the world” to Mariotti and created a life-long passion for travel.

After he graduated from Laurentian University with an honours degree in biology, he travelled extensively in North and South America. During this time, the young man became sensitive to social justice and environment issues.

By the time he returned home to Copper Cliff, he knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. “The natural world was a big part of my life growing up in ‘the wilds.’ I wanted to pass on to others how important the natural world is.”

He heard about plans for a new science centre, and joined the volunteer committee to share his ideas. A few months later Mariotti was hired by project director Dr. David Pearson to work on developing Science North. He landed his dream job and has never stopped dreaming. “Pearson made a commitment to create a world class centre. It is not just a buzz word. He hired people with ideas but who had no experience working at other science centres so that we could create a one-of-a-kind experience,” he says.

Mariotti was there to meet Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip when the centre opened in the summer of 1984.

Mariotti, now staff scientist at Science North, is involved in developing and delivering presentations that translate complex stories in a way that can be appreciated by children and adults alike.

He had a role in conceiving and developing the Jane Goodall exhibit that opened at Science North in May 2002. The exhibit is still on tour at science centres in Canada and the United States. The Goodall exhibit strengthened Science North’s reputation for delivering the goods, and this has  resulted in 12 advance bookings for the new Ends of the Earth, From Polar Bears to Penguins exhibit. Mariotti is part of the creative team spearheading the Ends of the Earth project, which opened  March 1, 2007.

Visitors to this 6,000 square foot exhibition will discover the unique nature of the polar regions, the current science being done there, and how these regions are indicators of climate change. In addition to learning about polar bears and penguins, Ends of the Earth will present information about early explorers to these areas.

Mariotti is a founding member, and current co-chair, of the Junction Creek Stewardship  Committee. This group works to reverse years of environmental neglect and has had substantial progress. The committee cleaned up Junction Creek, and by example, taught citizens to treat it like their backyard rather than a garbage dump. Mariotti’s dream is to one day see children fishing or  simply observing live fish in the creek, and enjoying this important waterway.

Bob Rogers, chair of the Healthy People Cabinet of city council, nominated Mariotti for the Community Builders Award. Rogers is impressed by how someone who grew up in Copper Cliff’s damaged environment, has worked toward accomplishing his vision of a greener community.

“He is a great example of someone from Sudbury who has studied here and is committed to the well-being of the community. He cares about people and the environment, and is someone others should look to as an example.”

Mariotti is shy of praise, and prefers to think of himself as someone who helps to get things done.

“I’m not big on praise. My mom wasn’t famous, but as a master seamstress who made everything from baptismal gowns, wedding dresses and even Gord Apolloni’s robes for the National Boxing Championship, she was a crucial part of her community.”

Mariotti is a crucial part of our community.

“The belief in contributing to the community and in sharing the passion of the natural world with others is not something that I do on my own. My wife, Catherine, supports these values wholeheartedly and is inseparable in striving for the pursuit of these ideals. This is extremely important for both of us.”

Franco Mariotti’s community involvement includes:

n  Sudbury Naturalists Club: founding member since   1979
n  Sudbury Roundtable on Health, Economy and the   Environment: member since 1990 and co-chair   from 1995 to 2003
n  Spanish River Public Advisory Committee: member   from 1979 to 1996
n  Spanish River Harbour Advisory Committee: member from 1993 to 1997
n  Ministry of Natural Resources Public Advisory   Committee: member from 1985 to 2000
n  TD Canada Trust Friends of the Environment: board   member since 2000
n  Earthdancers: honorary chair
n  Northwatch: founding member
n  Environment Review Tribunal: board member from   1989 to present
n  Environmental Bill of Rights Office, Education   Committee: member from 1996 to 1998
n  Healing the Landscape: member of the planning   and steering committee for the book project from   1999 to 2000
n  Healthy Places/Healthy People Provincial Conference 2001: co-chair
n  Sudbury Soils Study: independent process   observer


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