All for Science and Science for All

This weekend the Wisconsin Science Festival will put Madison on the map as one of many locations bringing people and science together in a fun, interactive and almost abstract way. The agenda includes the science of football, an indigo vat dying demonstration, an insect art exhibit and much more. I recommend browsing the program to understand the true scope of exhibitions that will be present. There is a strong connection to the arts throughout the entire three days of festivities and the whole thing kicks off Thursday night with a ceremony mixing dance, music and scientific performances.

Steering committee member Laura Heisler said that Wisconsin jumped on the science festival bandwagon as they saw growing national and international momentum around the concept. The National Science Foundation (NSF) even funded a support network for event organizers, the Science Festival Alliance. Madison planners visited the Cambridge Science Festival earlier this year to learn from the pros. Cambridge’s 2011 festival, their 5th, was a nine day event. Incidentally, or perhaps purposefully, Science Festival Alliance Manager Ben Wiehe is housed in the MIT Museum, also in Cambridge. The science festival inter-webbing continues; Heisler mentioned that Madison is expecting visitors this weekend from Nebraska’s team of planners.

Madison’s inaugeral science festival has had an overwhelming response for its call for volunteers so it seems the community is excited to add another notch to the city’s already impressively long festival tally. Heisler shared that they are expecting at least 2,000 K-12 students to be in attendance, an indicator that the science within University of Wisconsin – Madison will actually be permeating the sometimes very thick membrane of academic isolationism. I will also be in attendance, and to be honest, I can’t wait. I’ll be compiling a piece on the science behind Wisconsin’s food by hitting up expos on the science and art of bratwurts, beer’s influence on science and civilization, and the horticulture behind cranberry production. I also fully plan on stopping by “Biotechnilights Bioluminescence – How Bacteria Talk to Each Other.”

The Madison Science Festival did get a negative tweet last week, from a group called Wisconsin Heritage, that accused the event of “wasting taxpayer $.” But Heisler was insistent that the science festival, though free and open to the public, is a privately funded event. They also received a significant amount of in-kind service donations. Last May Science Festival Alliance’s Wiehe posted a blog about whether or not the cost and effort of putting on a free science festival is worth the outcome. The post points out a couple of valuable festival matchmaker outcomes. Wiehe argues that attendees can become aware of and involved in the year-round programs of festival partners. Also, it brings regional stakeholders together to work on various aspects of the festival, e.g. the eight forensics-focused organizations that collaborated to create a murder mystery night at the Philadelphia Science Festival.

One unique characteristic of this weekend’s event, setting it apart from the other festivals mentioned here, is that it is named the Wisconsin Science Festival, not the Madison Science Festival. This is in line with Wisconsin’s admirable long-standing commitment to striving towards the entire state benefiting from the scientific and intellectual progress occurring within its university walls. It’s also aligned with this year’s focus on celebrating the Wisconsin Idea.

Check back in a couple days for photos of the Wisconsin Science Festival!

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