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Another year of scientific celebration with MSF

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Eric Ferguson of the New England School of Communications leads a workshop on how loud modern music has become and why at the Maine Science Festival at the Cross Insurance Center on Saturday, March 18, 2017. Eric Ferguson of the New England School of Communications leads a workshop on how loud modern music has become and why at the Maine Science Festival at the Cross Insurance Center on Saturday, March 18, 2017. (edge photo/Kevin Bennett)

BANGOR – The greater Bangor area is set to once again come alive with its annual celebration of science.

The Maine Science Festival is back for its fourth year of reminding us that science isn’t some remote thing separate from our everyday lives. No, the truth is that science is everywhere. It’s all around us, serving as an integral part of everything that we do.

Starting on March 15 and running through March 18, the MSF is offering dozens of events at venues all over Bangor. These events, large and small, are all dedicated to bringing aspects of science to joyful, vivid life.This is a chance to see for yourself how science impacts your world; you might be surprised at how large a part it plays in your life. And while there are some events that are ticketed, the vast majority of what’s happening over these four days is free.

We’re including a schedule of events, but there’s not nearly enough space to go into detail for all of the wonderful programming that’s going on over the span of MSF. For more information, head to www.mainesciencefestival.org for details on anything that piques your interest.

As for the festival itself, we were fortunate to once again have a chance to speak with Kate Dickerson, Director of the Maine Science Festival. She has championed this event since its inception and been a major force in continuing its growth; MSF has become an annual highlight in the region due to the hard work of her and the many others devoted to the cause. She was gracious enough to give some of her time to share her deeply-held passion for this project.

TME: What prompted you to create something like the Maine Science Festival? What is your background in science and/or education?

Kate Dickerson: In April 2012, I read an article in the New York Times about a person from Scotland (John Durant, now at the MIT Museum) who was championing science festivals across the country. I thought “what a cool concept.” And my son, who was a freshman in high school at the time, is an avowed geek, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great for Conor and his friends to have a celebration of the things they love. Someone should start a Maine festival. I should do it.” To this day, I’m not sure how or why I made the leap that it should be me, but once I decided that, I was in.

As we planned the MSF, we realized that it was just as critical to have the arts as part of the Festival, and I’m deeply proud that we’ve had arts organizations as part of the MSF from the beginning, including the Penobscot Theatre Company, Bangor Symphony Orchestra and the University of Maine Museum of Art. The value of arts to the sciences (and vice versa) cannot be overstated, and it’s been a joy to have them all as part of the MSF. 

I have a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s in environmental management and policy. I’ve always loved science and hearing about the scientists who have helped to make our world a little more understandable. Trying to figure out how things work, and how we can use that knowledge to make the world a better place - that’s an inspiration for me.

TME: This is the fourth year of MSF – what lessons have you learned from previous incarnations that have helped with regards to subsequent planning? What are a few of the biggest issues that you have needed to overcome?


Dickerson: We are constantly thinking about how to ensure as balanced a schedule as possible: workshops, hands-on activities, forums, presentation, exhibits, films, and to have events in bars, meeting rooms at the Cross Center, stores and locations downtown – bringing science to places that people aren’t necessarily expecting it. 

As for biggest issues, we’ve had two: one, trying to make sure people know what the Festival is all about. A common misconception has been that we’re a science fair and only for kids, and neither is true. We have more than 60 events and activities of all kinds over four days; many of our events are actually most appropriate for grown-ups. The second issue is what every nonprofit in Maine has to deal with, and that’s making sure we have the money we need to run the MSF. I am committed to having our events being available free-of-charge; scientific understanding and literacy is too important to Maine to keep it behind a paywall. Luckily, we have sponsors and granting organizations who understand the value of science, engineering and technology to Maine and Mainers, and who appreciate the way the MSF provides that science in a festival atmosphere, where you can’t help but learn and be amazed at the remarkable people we have in Maine!

TME: What are some of the challenges that come with putting together an event such as this one? And what are some of the primary goals regarding MSF, both on a personal level for yourself and in a general sense?

 

Dickerson: As you can imagine, there are a lot of moving parts with a four-day, 60-plus event festival. I have a fantastic team of people (both staff and volunteers) who are committed to ensuring that the MSF runs smoothly, and it wouldn’t happen without them. That may have been the biggest challenge: having the right team in place to get the MSF off the ground. I was lucky enough to have the support and structure of the Maine Discovery Museum from the beginning, and having them on board (we are now an independently-funded program of the MDM) made it easy for me to focus on building a great team.

The biggest goal for MSF is for festival goers to understand and celebrate the remarkable science, engineering, and innovation that happens on a daily basis in Maine. We have national and world leaders in their respective fields, and the MSF is our chance to put a spotlight on them and say "Look what’s happening here!" On a more personal level, I hope that people who join us at the MSF are able to be as amazed as I am at what we have in Maine. I wasn’t lucky enough to grow up here, but I have been lucky enough to settle here, and I would put Maine’s science and scientific research up against anyone, anywhere.

TME: Has the MSF experienced anything that you’d consider “growing pains” as things have expanded?

 

Dickerson: Yes; we’ve been tweaking and changing our Friday Field Trip Day every year (this will be the 3rd year we have it), and we have been working to make sure we are serving the middle school students and teachers in a way that’s really beneficial for them. The day is really popular (it fills up in about three weeks the previous fall, with students coming from all over the state), and the whole team feels a pretty big obligation to get it right. It’s more difficult in some ways than the rest of the weekend, because it is far more regimented - each school/student group is assigned a schedule - and all the programming has to fit within the age range of middle school students.

TME: You’ve had some pretty phenomenal headlining events at previous festivals; this year is no exception. How do you go about choosing the sorts of presenters/performers that fill that slot each year? Also – could you share a little about this year’s headliner?

 

Dickerson: In the Fall prior to the MSF, we ask for programming ideas from past presenters, scientists, engineers, MSF partners – an “Intent to Present” call-out. Our programming team, made up of volunteers from organizations who recognize the value and importance of the MSF, including MDM, the Challenger Learning Center of Maine, and Girl Scouts of Maine, do the heavy lifting of screening programming ideas, and making sure we have a balance of science and events that will work for the MSF. The vast majority of our programming comes from these pitches. 

This year’s headliner is Robert Krulwich, whose entire career as a journalist has been focused on explaining difficult topics and ideas in an understandable way. Robert has won two Peabody Awards and Emmy awards, the AAAS Science Journalism Award, The Extraordinary Communicator Award from the National Cancer Institute, and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award. For the past fifteen years, he has been one of the co-hosts of the public radio show “Radiolab,” which has been instrumental in changing the way people tell stories and share ideas in an audio format.

My favorite quote about “Radiolab” is from Ira Glass: "There’s nothing like it on the radio; it’s an act of crazy genius.” Needless to say, we’re thrilled that Robert has agreed to come to Bangor and share some of his work about how to tell difficult stories in an understandable way. It’s not often that a public talk allows people to learn directly from someone who is a master communicator; I can’t wait to hear what Robert has to say.

TME: How much have the longstanding partnerships you’ve established with the City of Bangor and other varied organizations helped in keeping MSF vibrant? Are there any new partnerships for this year’s incarnation?

 

Dickerson: Our partnerships are vital to the MSF. Not only do our downtown partners graciously open their doors and welcome us and our events with open arms, we have partners throughout the whole state, covering all areas of science and engineering, and all types of organizations including businesses, non-profits, universities, and the arts, all of whom are committing to spreading the word about science in Maine. Many of these partners are also key people in our programming, which I believe is just as important, since it helps festival goers see the many areas where science is critical for Maine and Mainers.

We do have new partnerships, including some of the leading science and engineering trade association and membership organizations in the state: BIOME, E2Tech, and the Manufacturer’s Association of Maine. We also have Union River Center for Innovation as a new partner this year, as well as the Maine Invention Convention, which is a statewide competition that promotes innovative problem solving and inventing by Maine middle school students. We are hosting their competition this year at the MSF - they’ll be with us at the Cross Insurance Center on Saturday, March 17th. I’m glad we’ll be able showcase some up-and-coming Maine innovators!

All these organizations, and our long-standing partners, have really helped to make the MSF a big success showcasing Maine science. 

TME: How many events can festival goers expect this year? And – while you’re obviously excited about them all – are there any events to which you yourself are particularly looking forward?

Dickerson: We will have more than 60 public events and activities throughout the weekend (this doesn’t include the field trip day). There are some events that I’ll do my best to try and catch:  Science on Tap; Exploration Station; Implicit Bias: Explained; “Ugly Lies the Bone” - both the show and the talkback; Science of Dance - honestly, if I could hit every event, I would. I’m also really looking forward to 5 Minute Genius; it’s the one event I allow myself to block off and take part in (I moderate it) and it’s an evening of pure inspiration.

TME: What would you like to say to people – especially kids – who don’t see MSF as something for them because they’re “not into science”?

Dickerson: What we really want is for festival goers of all ages and interests to see that science is the foundation for so many things that we rely on every day and that Maine is a leader in a bunch of different areas - from forensic science to running citizen science programs to virtual reality, there are Maine scientists and researchers who are really good at what they do, and who are known all over the nation and world. And, even if you aren’t "into science" it is so integrated into our daily lives (mobile phones, computers, mapping, growing food) that it’s important to know how it works and who is doing that work.

TME: Are there any other things that you’d like our readers to know about the Maine Science Festival?

Dickerson: Some of our events require signups, and the rest are first-come, first-served. We’ve identified the age-appropriateness of all our events both online and in our program. all public MSF events take place either in Downtown Bangor (all four days), the Cross Insurance Center (Saturday only), or the Gracie Theater (Saturday evening headliner).

Mostly, we ask that you come check out an event (or two, or the whole weekend) and talk to our presenters and partners. This is your chance to be inspired, learn a little big, and have some fun!

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Maine Science Festival Schedule of Events

As you can see, there’s a TON of stuff going on over the course of the MSF’s four-day run. We’ve got it all here, but we thought we might shine a light on a handful of events that we found particularly intriguing.

March 15

7-8:45 p.m. - MSF Partner Event: Penobscot Theatre presents “Ugly Lies the Bone” by Lindsey Ferrentino (Penobscot Theatre Company)

7:30-9 p.m. - Science on Tap: Food Edition (Sea Dog Brewing Company)

March 16

4-7:30 p.m. - Tech Night 2018 (Maine Discovery Museum)

7-8:45 p.m. - MSF Partner Event: Penobscot Theatre presents “Ugly Lies the Bone” by Lindsey Ferrentino (Penobscot Theatre Company)

7-8 p.m. - MSF Partner Event: Emera Astronomy Center and M. F. Jordan Planetarium presents “Explore” (Emera Astronomy Center)

7-9:30 p.m. - 5 Minute Genius 2018 (Bangor Arts Exchange)

March 17

9 a.m.-4 p.m. -Exploration Station 2018 (Cross Insurance Center)

9 a.m.-3 p.m. - The Heat is On! (Cross Insurance Center)

9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. - Citizen Science in action! (Cross Insurance Center)

Citizen science is scientific work done by the general public in collaboration with professional scientists in their fields of study. The advantages of citizen science are many, including expanding the opportunities for data collection, faster data analysis and a better understanding and appreciation of how science works. MSF will have 8-10 citizen science projects up and running (all online), enabling festivalgoers to be part of ongoing science projects throughout the day.

10 a.m.-4 p.m. - VR and more with VEMI (Cross Insurance Center)

10 a.m.-2 p.m. - Crime Scene Investigation (Cross Insurance Center)

10-11:15 a.m. - VR: Not Just Fun & Games (Cross Insurance Center)

10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. - Improvisation and Trauma Recovery (Penobscot Theatre Dramatic Academy)

10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. - Maine Invention Convention (Cross Insurance Center)

11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. - Implicit Bias: Explained (Cross Insurance Center)

11-11:30 a.m. - Curator’s tour of “Shadows of Earth,” Caleb Charland exhibition (University of Maine Museum of Art)

11 a.m.-12 p.m. - Is it really trash? (Cross Insurance Center)

11 a.m.-12 p.m. - “RAMP IT UP” Energy Show (Bangor Public Library)

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. - Weather vs Climate (Cross Insurance Center)

1-2 p.m. - Getting Started with Online Mapping (Cross Insurance Center)

1-3 p.m. - Get Outside to Learn about Self and Nature: Land Trusts in Greater Bangor (Bangor Public Library)

1:30-3 p.m. - Maine Citizen Science (Cross Insurance Center)

The most recent issue of the Maine Policy Review provided a deep dive into the world of Maine Citizen Science. Topics included bees, river herrings, loon counts, tidal power, vernal pools, signs of the changing seasons and more. At this forum, you’ll get to meet some of the scientists who oversaw some of the project, along with a high school student who was part of a citizen science project.

2-3 p.m. - Sharks in Maine (Cross Insurance Center)

2-2:45 p.m. - Programming Robots (Maine Discovery Museum)

2:30-3:30 p.m. - Brass Works (Penobscot Theatre Dramatic Academy)

2:45-4 p.m. - Growing Maine (Cross Insurance Center)

3-4:15 p.m. - Life That Lives On Us (Cross Insurance Center)

3:30-4:30 p.m. - Humanity Needs Dreamers: A Visit With Marie Curie (Cross Insurance Center)

What if you could time travel to 1915 Paris and meet one of the world’s greatest scientists? Marie Curie (née Maria Skłodowska) is best known for pioneering the field of radioactivity, including the first successful treatment for cancer, but few understand the obstacles she faced just to get into the laboratory. Experience Marie’s remarkable journey from her childhood in Poland through groundbreaking research in France, and further international prominence. 

The short film “Humanity Needs Dreamers: A Visit With Marie Curie” explores the tenacity of the human spirit and the enduring allure of scientific discovery. Take part in a captivating event of narrative science and living history with a screening of the film followed by a discussion with scientist Ewelina Bolcun-Filas.

5-6:45 p.m. - MSF Partner Event: Penobscot Theatre presents “Ugly Lies the Bone” by Lindsey Ferrentino (Penobscot Theatre Company)

7:30 p.m. - Headliner: An Evening with Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich (Gracie Theatre)

March 18

11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. - Science Board Gaming 2018 (Fork & Spoon)

11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. - Science of Dance (Bangor Arts Exchange)

12-3 p.m. - Science Scavenger Hunt 2018 (Maine Discovery Museum)

1-2 p.m. - Inspired by Nature (Penobscot Theatre Dramatic Academy)

Sometimes the best answer to our most complicated problems comes from nature itself. In this forum, you’ll meet engineers who are finding inspiration from nature’s “structures” to solve some of our most vexing problems.

2:15-3:15 p.m. - Inspired by Technology (Maine Discovery Museum)

2:15-3:30 p.m. - Mammoths in Maine (Penobscot Theatre Dramatic Academy)

Mammoths lived on nearly all continents; in North America, the Columbian mammoth was well established when the woolly mammoth arrived from Siberia. By the end of the Ice Age all mammoths had gone extinct except for a relic population on Wrangle Island, which survived until about 4,500 years ago. Panelists will provide a short geological history of mammoths, followed by woolly mammoths in Maine and the tragic saga of Old Bett, the first modern elephant in Maine!

3-4:45 p.m. - MSF Partner Event: Penobscot Theatre presents “Ugly Lies the Bone” by Lindsey Ferrentino; talkback to follow performance (Penobscot Theatre Company)

3:30-4:30 p.m. - MSF Partner Event: Emera Astronomy Center and M. F. Jordan Planetarium presents “Dynamic Earth” (Emera Astronomy Center)

3:30-4:00 p.m. - MSF Films: Student Film Competition 2018 (Maine Discovery Museum)

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Again, we can’t possibly go in-depth for all 60-plus events, but you can find all the details at www.mainesciencefestival.org; most of the events also have Facebook events associated with them as well.

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