Science Festival Returns

by:  Dan Bennett for the North County Times
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It's time to get excited about science.

That's the theme of the third annual San Diego Science Festival, happening March 19 through 26 at various locations throughout the county, and culminating March 26 in Expo Day at Petco Park.

The festival will feature events at Balboa Park, San Diego State University, UC San Diego, and private businesses and schools.

More than 75,000 people will participate.

Kicking off the festival will be Science Family Day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 19 at Balboa Park.

Twenty Balboa Park institutions will offer science-themed activities during that four-hour period, and children 17 and younger will get free museum admission.

This year's Science Festival theme for the largest celebration of science on the West Coast is "Excite Your Mind."

The idea is to encourage youths in San Diego County to investigate interactive science exhibits and activities, and get them considering careers in science, engineering, math and technology.

The event is organized by UC San Diego and hundreds of community collaborators, and most events are free.

"This year we're offering a variety of festival events and hands-on activities that were not seen last year," said Mary Jo Ball, managing director of the San Diego Science Festival. "For example, the Science of Sports event, taking place at the San Diego Hall of Champions, is exploring the science of action sports ---- surf, wake, snow, skate ---- with on-site demonstrations and interactive opportunities including a wave machine and skateboard ramp."

At the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park, Ball said, audiences will preview the new IMAX film "Tornado Alley," and meet one of the storm-chasing meteorologists on March 19.

At Expo Day, students will have a chance to speak with either an engineer or scientist, and get to better understand what it takes to do their jobs.

Also new at Expo Day this year is the Preschool Science Zone for the youngest scientists, filled with specially chosen, pint-size activities for kids age 5 and younger, Ball said.

There will also be four stage performances by Sid the Science Kid.

The festival draws new visitors each year.

"We found that many people who attended the second year were first-timers," Ball said. "We put considerable effort into helping everyone who wants to attend the festival have the opportunity to do so."

Cal SOAP and Arts Bus Xpress have underwritten the cost of Coaster, trolley or bus passes for students, teachers and chaperones attending Expo Day, which will feature more than 135 exhibits and stage performances.

Collaboration among different institutions is vital to the cause.

"The overarching goal is to serve as a rallying point for the community of San Diego," Ball said. "We want to make sure that all sciences represented in San Diego are represented at the Science Festival. This is a gathering point for anyone that cares about science and engineering in our region. It's important to have respected institutions involved in the festival because we want San Diego to be known for the amazing science and engineering institutions that are doing great work every day in our very own backyard."

With that collaborative enthusiasm, arrives the excitement among students.

"Getting kids excited about science, engineering, technology, and mathematics is the main goal that influences everything we do," Ball said. "We want to show kids that careers in these fields are not only possible for them, but rewarding and awe-inspiring. What makes the festival different from the traditional hands-on approach to informal science education is our ability to have industry professionals on site."

The future appears wide open for the festival.

Continued expansion and innovative ways to showcase the world of science is the plan to move the expo into the future, Ball said.

"One of our goals for the near future is to continue to expand the variety of science disciplines represented at our events," she said. "We want to offer a complete picture of what it means to be a scientist. There are so many branches of the science tree, and we look forward to representing them all. We want to continue our involvement and relationship with K-12 schools to get more kids and their parents interested and involved in the science community."