By B. J. Coleman
Scientists have all the fun.
At least, that is the working hypothesis put to the test at multiple sites during this year’s weeklong 11th annual San Diego Festival of Science & Engineering.
On March 9, the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park opened the facility for a 21-plus crowd of adults to revisit Pause||Play, where they re-experienced the wonder of playtime accompanied by simple science lessons. The grownups were encouraged to forget about work, meetings, bills and other non-playful chores, with signs urging “No Adulting Allowed.”
With a lot of real rekindled “kidding,” the hands-on activities demonstrating scientific principles applied in real life were fun, entertaining and educational for those at the event. People attending the evening at the Fleet Center could engage in competitive games of atomic dodgeball, Nerf gun battles and Bernoulli ball relays.
Other less intense activities included lens-distortionary basketball shooting, musical challenge hopscotch, dry pool-ball diving, and merry-go-round catch. A long two-story tubular slide demonstrated gravity and accelerative motion. Nearby low-center-of-mass rotational chairs offered sitters the chance to see if they could spin and maneuver to tip the chairs over.
Lori Thomas, from Murrieta, sat outside the merry-go-round arena, awaiting her family’s turn on the wheel.
“This is fun,” Thomas said. “My daughter is covering this set of events for her science class back home.”
But the festival is not all about adults. The Fleet Center’s Kid City gave big kids an area for building forts. The adjacent “Power Play” hall provided adult-sized bouncy balls for races among visiting friends to figure out who’s the boss of bouncing around. The Scat Match table laid out plastic versions of animal excrement to pair with their sources to determine who would be the best poop detective.
Quieter activities brought attendees into areas to learn better jigsaw puzzling skills, roller coaster design, and to best other players with wit and sarcasm in the science edition of Cards Against Humanity.
This year’s multi-day festival was the first-ever venturing into inclusion of arts-related activities and experiences. That transformed the formerly STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) event series into a STEAM festival.
The festival event series is staged every March. The event series kicked off March 2, with Expo Day at Petco Park, a free daylong exposition targeted toward engaging families with pre-kindergarten through high school children. New features and highlights for 2019 included the Writerz Blok San Diego Live Art, painting surfboards with images from STEAM concepts, and putting science designs to fabric patterns in Fashion Meets Science. Petco Expo Day begins the festival annually, and this year featured over 100 booths, which brought out between 20,000 to 25,000 attendees.
Over 90 events were on this year’s festival calendar schedule. For the past seven years, the science festival has been the flagship STEM program sponsored by the Biocom Institute. Sara Pagano, managing director of the festival, noted that in 2018, the STEM festival included 65 events, attracted 65,000 participants overall, and brought different events into San Diego County for different communities. Pagano praised the feedback that helped better the 2019 festival of events.
“Each year, we stretch out more geographically throughout the county,” Pagano said. Pagano brought up the associated STEM in Your Backyard hyperlocal events as part of the festival outreach. “These events are smaller, and students can spend more time at these sites asking questions and seeking mentorship.
“In general, the majority of our festival events are free,” Pagano continued, “Because we believe that access is really important.” The events for 21-plus adults usually have a fee for entry, but Pagano said that 90% of the other activities are open and free of charge.
Pagano emphasized the importance of the festival on multiple levels.
“We love to have kids leave with excitement and a spark for science exploration. We are proud to expose students and their family members to the awe of scientific discovery,” Pagano said. “This festival is a great catalyst: exposing local residents to the companies and technology enterprises here, as well as the good schools to train students for relevant careers. We are all surrounded by science every day and the festival reminds us of that.”
— B.J. Coleman is a local freelance journalist and editor/staff reporter with 22nd District Legionnaire. B.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.