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Mad science

James Geiger of MSU's Chemistry Department gets up close and personal with a fireball during a demonstration in 2015's MSU Science Festival.
Courtesy Photo
Science is so hot right now. You can hardly turn on a TV or check your Twitter feed without seeing Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson dropping some scientific tidbit. For those looking for something a little more hands on, the 2016 MSU Science Festival kicks off this week. The 12-day, multi-site festival gives local science geeks a chance to sit down with professors and scientists to take a closer look at how the world works.

“I find that there's no better way to understand our world then by having some understanding of science," said Renee Leone, the MSU Science Festival’s co-founder and coordinator. "The festival is fueled by curiosity, innovation and imagination, which are shared no matter how old you are."

And this year's festival has activities for science enthusiasts of all ages. This is the biggest festival since MSU started the event in 2013. Originally focused on the research of students and faculty, the festival has morphed into a web of free, science-driven discussion, demonstrations and workshops that stretches across the state. This year’s slate of event includes everything from presentations on butterflies for young children to a discussion on the science of beer brewing for the older crowd.

The festival kicks off Tuesday with a keynote speech from Columbia University's Brian Greene, a physicist and string theorist whose works have been turned into a PBS “NOVA” series, which he also hosted.

"He comes from a theater family, so he's a fabulous speaker," Leone said.

Greene, who has appeared on CBS's "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” co-founded the World Science Festival in New York in 2008. His keynote talk deals with mankind's innate drive to innovate, discover and explore. The event is free, and you can reserve tickets by calling (517) 432-2000 or stopping by the Wharton Center box office.

Other festival highlights include an April 17 presentation by Hollywood special effects coordinator Steve Wolf, who discusses the science behind the badass explosions and stunts seen on the silver screen.

This year, even local businesses are getting involved. In an interactive panel on April 16 and 17, Strange Matter Coffee Co. sets up shop in the MSU Chemistry Building to show visitors how a bean becomes your morning cup of Joe and how to achieve the perfect cup with pour-over brewing.

"The demos let people get into labs that very few people actually explore on a regular basis," Leone said. "It's a fabulous opportunity for people of all ages to meet scientists one-on-one. Our presenters are so excited to share their work."

In addition to the demos and panels, the science festival is taking its show on the road to cities such as Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Marquette and more. One such event is a statewide astronomy night on April 15.

"It's very exciting to have people all across Michigan exploring the night sky together," said Leone. "And events will be held, clear skies or not."

Another collaborative, statewide event is the Night at the Museum slated for April 13. Museums across the state — including the MSU Museum, the Broad Art Museum and Impression 5 as well as museums in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids — host an evening of educational programs and games like scavenger hunts, flashlight tours and more.

The events at the museums and elsewhere aim to put a fun spin on the complex processes behind everyday activities.

"I like to imagine that people afterwards have conversations over the dinner table, sharing their excitement over the bright new star they see in the sky or the latest critter spotted in their backyard," Leone said. "All the questions will start flowing — how did that get there?"

2016 MSU Science Festival

April 12-24 FREE Full schedule available online sciencefestival.msu.edu


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