Originally published April 15, 2015
The sun’s barely out in downtown Atlanta on this cold Saturday morning, but David Nicholson, a graduate student studying Neuroscience at Emory University, is carrying a box labeled ‘Teaching Brains’ to one of – what seems like – a sea of white tents set up in Centennial Olympic Park. The banner outside his stall reads, ‘Hey, You Touched My Brain!’
“What’s in the box?”
“Human Brains! We’re going to give people a chance to see what a brain actually looks like and try to teach them a little bit about how it works.” David is one of hundreds of scientists, engineers, and enthusiasts setting up their stalls to prepare for the Exploration Expo, which is the last hurrah hosted by the second annual week-long Atlanta Science Festival.
In its inaugural year, the Atlanta Science Festival brought together 30,000 people into Atlanta’s streets, classrooms, auditoriums, concert halls, squares, breweries, parks – you name it – to teach the public about science.
“Why do you think what you’re doing is important?” I ask David as he puts on gloves to show me the brains. “Put quite simply, people want to do stuff. They don’t want to just be told about it. What we’re doing here today is hands-on work, and that makes a greater impact on people. You tell me, how many people have held an actual human brain in their hands?”
And he was exactly right. Just in a few hours, the Exploration Expo was bustling with families, students, tourists, and enthusiasts, all being entertained by over a hundred interactive exhibits, hands-on experiments, mind blowing demos and a full line-up of science-themed performances. But the Expo was just the Festival’s way of ending with a bang.
Within a week, the Atlanta Science Festival hosted over 140 events celebrating science and technology attended by thousands of people. The events, approaching hands-on science in a plethora of different ways, ranged from talks held on the science of beer to robot demonstrations, with events geared towards people of all ages and interests.
I got a chance to speak with Jordan Rose, one of the founders and directors of the Festival. Though he claimed he was exhausted, you couldn’t have guessed it. Springing with energy, he described how this year’s Atlanta Science Festival was different.
“The events are just bigger, better, and more collaborative. And this is only the second year we’ve been hosting this.”
I asked him what importance the Festival holds in the greater mission of communicating science to the public.
“Nobody gets to see science outside of the classroom or the lab. Science always happens behind closed doors. This is a way to get scientists and engineers outside those walls and into the community, giving them opportunities to interface with the public so that people can get excited about local opportunities for educational and scientific advancement. Science is usually lectures, talks, and panels, but that’s not what this festival is about. This is science in your face.”
The effect that the festival had on the community was evident when I spoke with Lula Huber, an 8-year attending the Expo, about her experience.
Having learned about the effects of pollution, she told me she wanted to organize a club in school to pick up litter on the streets so that she could contribute towards making earth a cleaner place.
It didn’t seem that science class next week was going to be as boring for her anymore.