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Six years of scientific celebration with the Maine Science Festival!

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BANGOR – One of the most thought-provoking and exciting events on the area’s cultural calendar has arrived once again – it’s time for the Maine Science Festival!

Too often, we think of science as SCIENCE, something far-removed from our personal experience that has little connection with most of our everyday lives. We engage in intellectual projection, allowing ourselves to be intimidated by this notion that science is something far too complex for any but the most specialized among us to truly understand it.

And nothing could be further from the truth.

Science is EVERYWHERE, a fact that is celebrated annually by the Maine Science Festival. This year’s MSF – which marks the event’s sixth year – takes place March 18-22 at locations all over the greater Bangor area. We’re talking dozens upon dozens of events, all intended to bring science to joyful, relatable life – as well as finding those connections to the world we live in every day.

And at the risk of sounding cliché, it really is fun for all ages. There will be plenty to do and to learn for young children, teenagers and adults alike. Seriously – if you have even the slightest bit of curiosity with regards to the world around you, you’ll find something to fascinate you at the Maine Science Festival.

Oh, and the majority of events are absolutely free.

You can find more information and a full schedule at www.mainesciencefestival.org. And you should absolutely do that, because any effort on my part to convey the vast and varied sweep of offerings over MSF weekend would be lacking. There’s just SO MUCH SCIENCE.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Kate Dickerson is the Director of the Maine Science Festival and one of the driving forces behind turning it into one of the most anticipated events on the cultural calendar. She was kind enough to engage with The Maine Edge via email for a Q&A that was not only informative, but also illustrative of the passion she carries for this project.

(Note: I’ve probably already made my feelings clear, but these are sentiments that bear repeating – it is a REALLY big deal that this event exists. Leaving aside the cultural and economic impact on the area, which is significant, the MSF is the kind of thing that can legitimately change lives. As someone who grew up in the area and was extremely interested in the scientific realm as a kid, I could only have dreamed of having access to something like this. If there’s anyone in your life – child or otherwise – with even a modicum of interest in any of this, I urge you to guide them to one or more of these events. We’re so lucky – don’t take any of this for granted.)

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The Maine Edge: The Maine Science Festival is a massive undertaking – and getting bigger all the time. How have you and the other organizers and volunteers dealt with the growth of the event?

Kate Dickerson: Our growth has been measured and deliberate, and we've been able to do it because we have the scientists, researchers, engineers, and innovators in Maine saying “Yes” when we ask for them to be a part of the Maine Science Festival. And, most importantly, we have a team of people who are completely honest with each other; if I put out a “great idea” and my team knows it's terrible, they tell me straight up. And I listen!

TME: Partnerships have long been a vital part of what makes the MSF so special. How do you go about establishing and executing those partnerships, both in terms of sponsorship and in terms of presenters/participants?

KD: I am a firm believer that the best way to have a great Maine Science Festival is to ensure that everyone wins. The whole purpose of the MSF is shine a spotlight on the remarkable people we have in Maine doing great work. The more partners we have on board and sponsors who support the mission, the more we are able to get the word out and celebrate what we have here in Maine. I know that what we have is on par, or better, than anywhere, and I enjoy telling people about that.

I'd really like to give a specific shout-out to our arts partnerships, especially Penobscot Theatre Company, Bangor Symphony Orchestra, and the University of Maine Museum of Art. They have been part of the MSF since our first festival in 2015, and to have arts and humanities as part of the MSF has always been important. Science doesn't live in a vacuum, and we need everyone to understand how science works and help explain it.

TME: You’ve had some incredible headliners over the years, but I think this year’s might be the coolest yet. I’d love to know more about the collaboration with Lucas Richman and the BSO, from how it started to how it came together. What I’ve heard about the process sounds fascinating.

KD: Thanks. I think I've just been able to really recognize that this project has been brewing for a very long time. A bit of background might help readers: I have a degree in chemistry and have been aware of the scientific understanding of climate change since my undergraduate days. The only difference is that back then we called it global warming.

For the last three to four years, we've been trying to have some sort of “big” project with the BSO and Lucas. Also in the last few years, it has become clear that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the world's oceans. When that is added to fact that we have world-leading climate researchers, and that one of the missions of the Maine Science Festival is to highlight our world-leaders, it became clear that it was time to do a more focused, “produced in Maine” kind of event. And, when we realized that 2020 was Maine's Bicentennial and that our headliner could be an all-Maine event, it all fell into place.

Once I commissioned Lucas, I was fortunate to receive grants for the commissioning funds from the Onion Foundation, Maine Humanities Council, and the Bicentennial Commission. It was really lovely to know that this art/science exploration was deemed important enough to funders that they were willing to help us make it happen. Then the education of Lucas regarding climate change in Maine – something that was a critical component of this project from the beginning – began in earnest last July. I arranged interviews with some of our leading scientists and those who are dealing with climate change in Maine right now. This included people working at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Friends of Casco Bay, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, legendary fisheries researchers and practitioners Robin Alden and Ted Ames, the Town Manager of Stonington, and the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute and School of Earth and Climate Science, and the School of Marine Sciences, and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Lucas and I also visited middle schools through the BSOs education programming, where we had a climate scientist join us. Lucas would talk about composing and his work, and the scientists would discuss climate change. All of these sessions – from the researchers to the students – have been vital for the creation of “The Warming Sea.” And, I'd be remiss if I didn't thank Emera Maine for being our headliner sponsor – their support has helped make this project happen.

We would love to have a full house for this concert – it may be your only chance to hear a world premiere that is a Bicentennial event and one that will be attended by the U.K's Consulate General for New England, who will be our guest at the concert. The U.K. is hosting the next United Nations Climate Change conference (COP26), and they are helping us spread the word about this project.

We have a Maine Science Festival promo code for the tickets: msfwarmingsea will provide 25% off the ticket price. In addition, the Bangor Symphony Orchestra also has a voucher program with $5 tickets for kids K-12 and $15 tickets for their parents/accompanying adults.

TME: What are a few of the events taking place during MSF that you’re most anticipating most? Old favorites? New happenings? Both?

KD: Even though this is like asking me to pick a favorite child, I will admit that 5 Minute Genius is my favorite. With 5 Minute Genius, we bring in rock-star scientists (my word) from all over Maine and ask them to talk about their research in normal-human-language, in five minutes or less. After five minutes, a cowbell cuts them off if they haven't finished, and we go right to Q&A with the audience for five minutes. One of the reasons I love it is because it provides a quick, compelling snapshot of some of the coolest work happening in Maine. This year we'll hear from another diverse group covering academia, startup businesses, and research labs. And we'll have a wide variety of topics including fat, big data, lobster proteins, microbial life, hibernation, and paper and wood technologies. I don't think there's a more inspiring evening of Maine science anywhere, and I'm grateful for the support of the Maine Technology Institute who sponsors this Showcase event so we can produce it for festival goers. We have 5 Minute Genius videos on our YouTube channel, so people can both see what the format is like AND hear about some of great work happening in Maine.

I'm also really looking forward to both the play “Safety Net” at Penobscot Theatre Company and the programming we have built around it. We are helping provide the scientists and practitioners who rely on science to address opioids and addiction in Maine as part of the 12 preshow sessions and four talkbacks with “Safety Net.”

We also have a session at the MSF itself. “Understanding Addiction” with a remarkable lineup of presenters: Jacquelyn A. Cyr, Patty Hamilton, Tricia Hobbs, Sheriff Troy Morton, Dr. Noah Nesin, Gordon Smith (Director of Opioid Response, State of Maine) and moderated by Kathryn Ravenscraft.

Finally, we a fair number of sessions that address climate change in Maine, with two of those sessions put together by people who Lucas interviewed. We have had sessions about climate change at every festival, but this year the number is really impressive. One of the sessions is a project we're piloting: Climate Conversations. It's modeled after StoryCorps, and the idea is to help people get more comfortable talking about climate change in Maine.

TME: You’re six years in now. How does the festival in its current form compare to that inaugural event? What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?

KD: The biggest change has been that we no longer have to build the program from the inside. We have become a kind of destination for scientists, researchers, engineers, and innovators who want to reach a more general audience and talk about their work, and they pitch us programs and sessions. Not only is it great that we have people asking to be part of the Maine Science Festival, we end up with sessions that we never would have thought of doing. “This is What an Economist Looks Like” and “Science in the Field – an Instrument Petting Zoo” are just two examples from this year's festival that come immediately to mind.

TME: I ask this one every time, but I think it’s maybe the most important: What would you say to people – particularly young people – who don’t see MSF as something for them because they’re “not into science”?

KD: We are impacted by science every day and it doesn't do us any good if we pretend to ignore that it's not there. Even if you don't go into a field of science or you think you can't do it, you're surrounded by it all the time. So much of our lives are dependent upon science and technology. Everything from the computer we carry in our pockets, to paying tolls remotely on highways, to making sure our pets get the best veterinarian care they can – even these wide-ranging examples barely scratch the surface of the science around us. The MSF is a fun, safe way to learn a little bit more about the world around us, and if you get inspired by the people doing great work in the state, all the better.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about MSF?

KD: I am really happy that we bring at least 10,000 festival goers a year to Bangor (in March!) to celebrate Maine science. We have more than 70 events and activities for all ages – from our 21-plus event Science on Tap taking place at Black Bear Brew to MSF Trivia Night to a huge amount of hands-on activities, talks, forums, art exhibits, and drop-in workshops. I am willing to say that there is something for everyone, no matter what your age, interest, or background.

You can find all the information about MSF programming at http://bit.ly/31ArnGc and a list of programming by topics at http://bit.ly/3ar0KqC. And, you can build out your own schedule on our App: my.yapp.us/MESCIFEST.

Thanks to the support of our sponsors we are able to provide all of our events other than the headliner free of charge. Many other public science festivals and events around the country charge anywhere from $10-$30 for just one event. The MSF doesn't. We're happy to take donations if you'd like to chip in, but most of all we want to celebrate Maine science with you!

Last modified on Wednesday, 11 March 2020 09:05

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