Wisconsin Science Festival brings wonders of science to life for all ages

Sept. 17, 2012

by Janet Kelly

After a rousing debut last fall, the Wisconsin Science Festival returns for its second year this Sept. 27-30 with an even bigger and bolder schedule of people, music, art and explosions bringing the wonders of science to life for all ages. 

In addition to returning crowd favorites such as dancing scientists, the physics of football and live science fiction radio, the festival will expand exhibits at its central sites in Madison while adding new venues statewide.

Participating organizations include the children’s museums in Appleton, Eagle River, Eau Claire, Fond du Lac, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Sheboygan and Stevens Point.

Laura Heisler, director of the festival and programming at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, said the event expects to draw visitors from throughout the Upper Midwest thanks to its unique offering of interactive exhibits, hands-on workshops, lectures, demonstrations and conversations with leading researchers and creative thinkers.  

“People of all ages will be able to touch, taste, look, listen and discover the wonders of science, art and innovation. The festival will buzz with activities to explore, experience and enjoy,” Heisler said. “This is a unique, family-friendly event that will leave a lasting impression on visitors of all ages.”

The festival explores the natural world in new and exciting ways from the science of making bratwurst and beer to investigating the connections between music and our brains.

Most festival activities will be held in the Town Center at the award-winning Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, with events also taking place elsewhere on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus, at the Madison Children’s Museum and in communities statewide.

Highlights of the programs, all taking place at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery unless otherwise noted, include:

Are You Smarter Than a Monkey? Monkeys and people are both smart, but in different ways. Explore these similarities and differences through a popular puzzle feeder and a new iPad shape and color choice experiment. Learn why these kinds of activities are important to the health and well-being of the animals at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. The session runs from 9 a.m. to noon on Sept. 27.

Neuroscience and Music: World-renowned jazz pianist Ben Sidran and UW–Madison’s Richard Davidson, director of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, will explore unexpected connections between neuroscience and music. The program starts at 7 p.m. on Sept. 27.
 

Stem Cell Outreach: Hands-on lab activities provide an opportunity to learn more about the stem cell research currently being done on the UW–Madison campus. Kids and teens are especially welcome, though of course adults should not hesitate to stop by and explore this field of cutting-edge research. A variety of interactive activities will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 28 and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 29.

 

Chocolate from Bean to Bar: This program features a demonstration of chocolate making, from cocoa beans to a finished chocolate bar, with examples of the components of chocolate at intermediate stages. At the end of the presentation, attendees will experiment with various chocolate properties, including what happens when water and chocolate mix. The session runs from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 28.

The Physics of Football: Participants will learn about energy and motion by drop-testing football helmets and firing miniature foam footballs from an air cannon. The session runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 29.

Reptiles and Amphibians: The Madison Area Herpetological Society will educate the public about frequently misunderstood reptiles and amphibians and share their herpetological expertise. Society members also will provide legal and practical advice for keeping reptiles and amphibians. The session runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 29.

BadgerBOTS: Visitors to the BadgerBOTS Robotics booth will be able to construct Lego jewelry, Lego robotic assembly kits and watch robot demonstrations. The booth will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 29.

Science is Fun Extravaganza: Exploding balloons and liquids that change color in the dark are part of an entertaining hour of dazzling scientific phenomena. Join the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy’s Bassam Z. Shakhashiri and Rodney Schreiner in their chemistry lab to learn more about light, color, liquids, gases, and more! Shakhashiri is a professor of chemistry and the William T. Evjue Distinguished Chair for the Wisconsin Idea. The session will take place at 10 a.m. on Sept. 29 in room 1351 of the Daniels Chemistry Building on the UW–Madison campus.

Special Broadcast – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Wisconsin Public Radio and the 9XM Players invite you aboard the Nautilus for a trip 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Captain Nemo. This special live broadcast edition of Wisconsin Public Radio’s Old Time Radio Drama will be hosted by Norman Gilliland, who also adapted the Jules Verne science fiction classic for radio. The show starts at 8 p.m. on Sept. 29. 

Sponsored by UW–Madison, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and about a dozen other organizations as well as several corporate sponsors, the Wisconsin Science Festival seeks to inspire, educate and develop global citizens by raising awareness and understanding of science.

In addition to activities for the public, K-12 educators can attend several workshops, including special sessions conducted by the education teams behind PBS’ NOVA and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Events in Madison will culminate with a talk by Sir Ken Robinson, an international leader in education, creativity and innovation and the most watched and discussed speaker in the history of the prestigious TED Conference.

Entry to most festival sites will be free, though some may charge their usual admission fees. A few activities may require nominal materials fees or costs for refreshments.