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Cambridge Science Festival keeps on growing

Annual event, now in its 3rd year, begins April 25

The organizers of the rapidly growing Cambridge Science Festival - which will kick off its third year on April 25 - have ambitious plans for the future that include expanding the festival's outreach beyond just nine days each spring.

"There is every sign that the festival has become an established part of the calendar in Cambridge," says John Durant, director of the MIT Museum, which organizes the festival. "We're now talking about tens of thousands of people engaging with science and technology through the festival."

The festival, which aims to showcase and make accessible the wide range of scientific research going on across Cambridge, began in 2007, when approximately 15,000 people attended. In 2008, attendance ballooned to an estimated 28,000. That rapid growth has put a demand on physical space to house the festival's 200-plus events, and a desire to shift the scope of the festival's mission.

This year, for example, organizers have moved the popular Science Carnival - a free, all-ages event offering hands-on science experiments and live stage performances - from Cambridge City Hall to MIT's more spacious Kresge Auditorium. But Durant also envisions a future that goes beyond Cambridge: mobile units that bring interactive science and technology to schools around the state.

"It's about spreading curiosity. It's about engaging young people who maybe don't think of themselves as potential scientists and engineers of the future," he says. "If you have curiosity, then you have the key ingredient to be a scientist in the future."

The festival aims to encourage curiosity by featuring science and engineering celebrities such as Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. The former astronaut will lead a series of workshops for middle school students on Saturday, May 2 - an event organized by MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

With the world focusing on energy-related issues, the festival will also host "Meltdown: What Everyone Needs to Know and Do About Energy" (7 p.m., April 30, Cambridge City Hall), which will bring together experts from a variety of fields for a town hall forum on how to create a sustainable energy future. The forum will be led by Broad Institute Founding Director Eric Lander, a co-chair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and include MIT professors Ernest Moniz, Henry (Jake) Jacoby and Ronald Prinn, as well as Steve Morgan of the Cambridge Energy Alliance and Stephen Ansolabehere of Harvard.

As attendance has grown, so, too, has the number of MIT researchers willing to open their labs to the public during the festival, says P.A. d'Arbeloff, director of the festival.

"There are so many wonderful things that are happening at MIT, and people sometimes have no clue," she says, adding that the festival "showcases some globally significant and remarkable research that is going on here. The people in those labs want to show the world what they are doing."

The festival's success has even spawned imitators. Organizers of San Diego's first citywide science festival, which took place several weeks ago, looked to MIT and the CSF for guidance in their planning, d'Arbeloff says. Some of the festival's other highlights this year include:

  • "The Brain Experience: Speaking of the Brain (6-9 p.m., April 28, 43 Vassar St.)
  • "The Science of Baseball" (noon, May 3, Broad Institute);
  • "NOVA: Meet the producers" (6:30 p.m., April 29, WGBH Yawkey Theater)
  • "Third Annual Trivia Challenge!" (6-9 p.m., April 29, Stata Center)

Festival events, many of which are free, run daily from April 25 until May 3. For more information on the CSF, and a complete list of events, visit

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 15, 2009 (download PDF).

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