Innovation and inspiration for kids at Philadelphia Science Festival

When you are young, the science bug might bite you at any time. For a young boy named Sonny Viscelli, it happened during a visit to the Tinker Lab at the Philadelphia Science Festival on Saturday. There he was so inspired to learn all about robotics that he and his family returned to the festival a day later.

On Sunday, Sonny and his father, Steve, were found at Pennovation Center. Here they worked hard on a bee-shaped robot made of items found in the trash — or a “trash bot,” for short.

The brand-new Pennovation Center opened its doors to the public for the first time for the Philadelphia Science Festival, which runs through April 29. Located in a part of town known as Forgotten Bottom on a bend of the Schuylkill River, the old converted paint factory offers a glimpse into what the future of innovative design could bring.

The space holds collaborative workspaces for Penn students and space for tech start-ups (of mostly Penn graduates), all under one roof. Some of the studios are equipped with garage doors to remind the occupants that high-tech start ups like HP and Apple got started in garages.

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The Pennovation Center was one of 18 locations last weekend where children could be scientists for a day.

At the Microsoft Reactor at the University City Science Center, visitors got a hands-on introduction to the work of innovators like inventor Richard Buckminster Fuller and chemist Stephanie Kwolek. At this site, stations were set up where a young innovator could construct a geodesic dome or solve puzzles.

A geodesic dome, you ask? It is the most efficient structure in human history, utilizing the maximum amount of space with the minimum amount of materials, explained David Clayton, director of the FirstHand program at the University City Science Center. His 5-year-old son, August, manufactured one of those domes from the materials provided in no time.

The festival also offers glimpses into the past. At Pennsylvania Hospital on Spruce Street, founded in 1751 by Benjamin Franklin, Donah Beala presides over a collection of old surgical equipment. Wearing a period costume, she teaches visitors about the potentially horrific tools used by doctors in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Science Festival continues through the week and culminates on Saturday, April 29, with a five-hour carnival at Penn’s Landing. A schedule of events can be found at the Philadelphia Science Festival website.

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