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NYC's World Science Festival

Kids at the World Science Festival in NYC.

Kids making connections – and tessellations – at the World Science Festival in New York. Image courtesy flickr user Bekathwia.

Periodic Tabloid extends a warm welcome to guest blogger Josette Hammerstone of the Philadelphia Science Festival. Hammerstone spent the first week in June at the World Science Festival in New York City. 

My father loves chemistry. He could spend hours excitedly talking about his adored mass spectrometer or his adventures in research centers across the world. Weekends during my childhood were spent with him in the lab, donning white coat and giant safety goggles to number beakers for analysis. It was much to his chagrin when I turned in my textbooks for a camera.

Perhaps I was a victim of a generation gap. I did not have the heroes that my father did. Fifty years ago, astronauts were exploring the new frontiers of space while Jacque Cousteau was pushing the limits of what we knew about our own oceans. Science and technology were exciting. They mattered. Research was the foundation for our flourishing economy, and the brave few who got to float in space or dive in submarines were modern day cowboys.

As our country struggles with a dwindling economy, slipping in the ranks as an innovator, we’ve started to look at how to bring science and technology back into American hearts and minds. Many have found that the biggest challenge lies in changing our culture of celebrity. Science festivals, in various forms, and in cities and towns all over the world, are becoming an increasingly common way to celebrate science and popularize its heroes. As the coordinator for the first-ever Philadelphia Science Festival this past April, I made sure to attend the five days of science that took over New York City – which rivals only L.A. for its cult of celebrity – at the beginning of June.

New York’s World Science Festival, now in its fourth year, had serious star power. Alan Alda’s new play, “Radiance,” about the life of Marie Curie, was given a gala reading on opening night, featuring actors like Maggie Gyllenhaal, Allison Janney, Liev Schreiber, and even Philadelphia’s own David Morse. Panel events showcased Jeopardy champion Watson and the technology that created him – er, it. But for all the festival’s big name glamour, the little guy still drew crowds. Thousands took to the Brooklyn Bridge Park to meet amateur astronomers and gaze at the night sky. Programs like Cool Jobs wowed children and teens – an engineer demonstrated how he made a real life Batman grappling hook and an ecologist told stories about his research in the jungle canopies.

In my experience, it is often the familiar which connects people to science. In one of the many neighborhood programs during the inaugural Philadelphia Science Festival, astronaut Guy Bluford returned to his West Philly roots to an audience of many local students. As the program closed and everyone spilled out onto the dark city street, Mr. Bluford pointed upwards as the space station passed almost serendipitously overhead. A group of kids looked up, “ooh-ing” in unison.

Science festivals are an experiment in themselves, but moments like these seem proof that given a stage, astrophysicists can stand up even to rock stars. I think my father would agree.  

Josette Hammerstone is Coordinator at the Philadelphia Science Festival.

Related:
Mourning With Marie Curie [Periodic Tabloid]
Pondering the World, With Help From Some Broadway Stars [ArtsBeat]
2011 World Science Festival: A Look Back [The Scientist]

Posted In: Education

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