Tech town celebrates science
Science and technology are vital to Seattle and now, they are fun, too.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Seattle couldn't resist adding another festival to its calendar, and the latest, the Seattle Science Festival feels a little overdue.
A big chunk of our workforce makes its living in the sciences and technology, and we're home to a major research university. The festival, which will become an annual event is running all month, and I was curious how it came about and how this first one is going.
Ellen Lettvin is Pacific Science Center's vice president for science and education and director of the festival. She said science festivals got started just over a decade ago in Britain. They spread around Europe and eventually made it to the United States about six years ago and have been so successful at getting the public engaged with the sciences that the National Science Foundation gave a consortium of festivals a grant to help more cities create their own events.
That alliance said, hey, why isn't Seattle doing this? — and contacted the Pacific Science Center, where the idea bubbled around until planning for the Seattle Center's "Next 50" celebration of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair turned up the heat.
The festival's opening event this month drew 20,000 people and more than 130 exhibitors. Lettvin said the festival is aimed at getting "kids and families interested in and excited about these fields."
That could attract more future scientists, but just as important is having more people understand enough about science and the scientific method to make informed decisions about what to do with whatever new thing people in the sciences come up with.
Lettvin did research at the UW for 11 years before she came to the Science Center in 2008. She made the move because she believes it's important for the public to understand what people in science and technology are doing.
"I came to feel there was a responsibility of the researchers to share our work with the public, because, who pays for our research? The taxpayers. And also because it is such cool stuff," she said.
The festival brings people together with presenters who are both excited about their work and are good communicators. And it smartly incorporates the arts in its presentations.
For instance, when Stephen Hawking, Leroy Hood and Jack Horner spoke last week, Spectrum Dance and Baba Brinkman ("Rap Guide to Evolution") performed.
Friday's event at the Museum of Flight is about space, including a discussion of the merits of private vs. government roles with two former astronauts, Bonnie Dunbar and George Nelson, and Mark Sirangelo, chairman of Sierra Nevada Space Systems and Chris Lewicki, president of Planetary Resources. The Seattle Opera will perform an excerpt from "The Little Prince," which is about a visitor from space.
There is information about remaining events at seattlesciencefestival.org.
So much of our world is shaped by science and technology, yet for many people those endeavors are as mysterious as magic.
In this age, lay people really ought to have a better understanding of science basics than most folks do.
Being well-rounded takes more effort than it once did. Maybe the festivals will help with that. This inaugural festival has done one big thing already. It's brought together a very long list of collaborators from across the community to work together — educators and scientists, and people in business, government and the arts.
"Seattle is a tech town," Lettvin said, by every measure, employment, number of companies, dollars, "Seattle is always in the top five in the nation." The festival, she said, will help more people appreciate "how integral science and technology are to our community's culture and prosperity."
Amen. And we needed something intellectually stimulating to do between Folklife and the Bite.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Jerry Large
I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
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