They want you to think beyond ideas gleaned from dusty textbook hypotheses. Look past those smelly experiments on dead frogs and owl pellets. Find practicality behind all the equations and theories you had to memorize. And, at the end of a two-week flurry of events, exhibits and demonstrations, find the fun, reasonableness and all-out excitement STEM offers in our community.
The sixth annual Atlanta Science Festival kicks off Saturday and runs through March 23, featuring more than 100 hands-on activities, facility tours, presentations and performances at a variety of locations throughout metro Atlanta. It culminates with the Exploration Expo – Atlanta’s biggest science event – from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 23 at Piedmont Park.
Last year’s expo brought out more than 25,000 people, and the two-week long event had a total attendance of 53,000 – numbers that continue to thrill event co-executive director and co-founder Meisa Salaita.
With attendance six years ago at about half the current number, Salaita attributes the growing success to “just how interested people are in science and how eager they are to expose their kids to science, technology, engineering and math.”
“This year, there’s a busload of kids coming from New York,” added Salaita. “We’ve got some others driving in from Mississippi. They’re coming from all over the place to visit our festival, and I’m just blown away by that. It’s exciting.”
More than 130 events throughout the two-week festival are “designed to be in everybody’s backyard throughout the metro region,” she said, adding that topics run the gamut. Guests can expect a variety of opportunities – drones and nano-tattoos, panda yoga, archeological digs, nature walks, ice cream tastings, art, trivia, curling, superheroes, beavers, newts, bees and more.
At the Exploration Expo March 23, the opportunities for attendees are many: pet a python, squeeze into a mock MRI scanner, look up your own nasal passages, and even touch a human brain.
Decatur resident Kristina Morris – who has attended the event in previous years with husband, Chris, and their two daughters — recalls touching the human brain and laughs at the recollection.
“There’s fun things and gross things,” Morris said. “This year, there’s an ‘insects as sources of protein’ event, for instance.”
She added that it’s given their daughters “a chance to see science in a different light … and, it’s cool to experience it with your kids and see it through their eyes.”
Morris feels one of the most important aspects of the festival is that it “celebrates all the different companies here in our community that are involved in some way, shape or form with STEM activities and lets them showcase what they do right here in our backyard.”
For instance, the Center for Puppetry Arts – one of more than 100 partner organizations participating during the two-week festival – will offer eight performances over four days.
And, what might puppetry have to do with science, technology, engineering and math? Center for Puppetry Arts Education Director Aretta Baumgartner is glad you asked.
“In addition to hosting a puppet show about a Galapagos tortoise and a special amphibian-centric opportunity (science), all the center’s shows are produced with “state of the art technology – lights, microphones, our ticketing system. With regard to engineering, we use simple machines and pulleys. And, (participants) will get to come up and build at the center, using math skills.”
Baumgartner said “because the science festival encourages kids to be creative thinkers, it’s essential … and, for us, it connects the center with people we never would have met. We get to connect with more of the general Atlanta community of patrons and guests, as well as other program partners at the festival.”
Salaita said the festival’s vast gathering of partners offers young attendees the opportunity “to meet the actual doers of the science that interests them. It’s a chance to meet real-life scientists and engineers. These are important jobs that need to be filled one day, and we hope to spark an interest early.”
Added Salaita: “We’re not expecting that every child who comes to our festival is going to become a scientist or go into the tech field, but we hope they will gain an appreciation for science and for evidence-based thinking, which is extremely important in the way we make decisions for ourselves, our family and our planet.”
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