The Cambridge Massachusetts Science Festival — which starts a week from Friday – got some major press this week. The New York Times featured a profile of John Durant, the director of the MIT Museum and the festival’s chief cheerleader. The story, by local writer and former Boston Globe editor Karen Weintraub, ran below the fold on the front of the Science section. It features a photo of Durant, arms asplay, in front of the festival’s green and blue banners, which are now hanging from light posts up and down Mass Ave.
The piece casts him as a science festival “evangelist” — his father was the real thing — and “the animating spirit” behind the event. It also pokes a bit of fun at Durant. The lead describes a scene where he appeared with “a scantily clad all-girl rock band,” at the launch of the festival’s human genome trail – a scientific answer to Boston’s Freedom Trail.
Nature Boston spoke to Durant before the 2011 festival. Last year, he said he noticed the need for a festival here as soon as he arrived from England in 2006.
Science festivals are common in Europe and it was clear that Cambridge had all the raw materials for one.
“But, I could also see that it wasn’t obvious to someone who wasn’t plugged in,” he said in an NNB interview. The city’s scientific community needed more visibility. “Instead of facing inward to itself, it could face outward.”
Since then, Philadelphia, San Diego, New York and other cities have launched science festivals.
“It’s clearly an idea that is resonating across the country,” Durant said. The Cambridge event is modeled more on an arts festival like Boston’s First Night, than your high school science fair.
“Sometimes, people forced into formal science education can have “the natural curiosity beaten out of them… But, I think it is easily recovered,” Durant said. That’s what the fair is about, he said.
This year’s festival includes a circus — but not a fair. (Duirant objects to that term.) A full listing can be found on the festival’s website via a searchable database broken down by age-range and event type– arts v. lectures v. social events. The first night kicks off with sessions all over town covering, among other topics, gaming, sidewalk astronomy and Alternative Histories of Science . Check back here or on our Twitter feed for more coverage.
Here on the Nature Blog, we covered both Cambridge festivals in 2010—both here and in the UK. And we’ve mapped them worldwide.