The call had gone out for “All Curious and Adventurous Minds.” That’s certain temptation for a family looking for a different experience while traveling through New York in the summer time. From the Brooklyn Bridge Park to Washington Square Park and other locations around the city, the World Science Festival had come to town. A chance to remind the kids just how cool science could be.
We headed out to what had been dubbed, “Innovation Square,” on the campus of NYU Polytechnic Institute at MetroTech Plaza in Brooklyn. Here was a street fair of the scientific variety.
Robot Petting Zoo
The first thing we came upon was a crowd of children and adults packed around a number of snake-like machines. The “snakes” were writhing on the ground. A child was behind the controls, and with a simple flick of his hand, the snake began to slither. In place of where the snake’s head would be, was a camera instead—capturing a live picture. Its inventors were on hand to explain that these snakes could be used to move through pipes and up poles–places hard for people to access–and could be used in rescue efforts to help seek out victims trapped in a collapsed building, for example.
They were the first in a bunch of different robot species on hand—robots that could be handled. Robotic fish, mechanical birds (that flew on the hour) and robotic aqua jellies (jelly fish) were a number of others that captured not only the attention of kids and adults alike, but also the realistic moves and reactions of the actual animals the represented.
Other robots were on hand that could play soccer (the RoboCup World Champions), move and react much like R2D2 and even try to figure out what your facial expressions mean. One could easily feel as if one had walked onto a sci-fi movie set. Some of the robots were so cute that my daughter was soon asking if she could bring one home to live with us.
Moving on we were introduced to laser and nano photonics and the world’s lightest material. We watched a performance on the Innovation stage in which a computer reacted in accordance with live dancers. Festival workers suggested we head into the Innovation Arcade where among other things, kids were playing computer math games in which they “virtually” controlled the computer or making art in an arcade photo booth that challenged them to create special shadows.
As we moved through this massive salute to science, we discussed cool jobs in the field. Here we’d seen people integrating science into dance, sports and travel—and in a number of cases, integrate it into projects aimed at helping to save species and resources worldwide. How amazing was this? By the time we walked away, my 7-year-old announced she was ready to go to college for science immediately, in hopes of landing a great job in the field of science. Evidently, this festival was worth the trip.
More Science Exposure
For those who didn’t have a chance to check out this year’s World Science Festival in person, don’t worry. You can check out their website to see all kinds of recorded performances and sign up for early alerts about upcoming events during the year.
Plus, there are plenty of great science museums throughout the United States that offer fantastic exposure to science year-round and that cater to families.
A few of my favorites include:
The Franklin Institute— one of the oldest science museums in the country where kids can spend days—walking through a giant heart, checking out planes, trains and automobiles, and being a part of all kinds of new interactive exhibits. As a bonus, the automaton that inspired Brian Selznick’s award-winning, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” can be found there.
The Liberty Science Center—where children are seen as “natural scientists.” Current exhibits there include the Touch Tunnel, where kids have to navigate a maze in the dark, Operation: Banana, where they perform surgery on a banana to diagnose an ailment, and learning about engineering at the Skyscraper exhibition.
The New York Hall of Science: this lesser-known science center occupies one of the remaining structures of the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens’ Flushing Meadows Corona Park. It boasts more than 450 “hands-on exhibits,” that “explore biology, chemistry and physics.”
Don’t be surprised if once you travel to one, you get bitten by the science bug.