From magic mushrooms to skateboarding physics: A Philadelphia Science Festival preview

    (Illustration by Tony Auth)

    (Illustration by Tony Auth)

    Here are the seven events you need to see at this year’s Philadephia Science Festival. 

    How many rubber bands does it take to explode a watermelon?

    Why are Philadelphians so intense about sports?

    Is there a cure for a hangover?

    These are some of the oh-so-pressing questions the Philadelphia Science Festival is slated to take on next week.

    The festival starts April 25, runs for nine days, and includes more than 100 events, all aimed at celebrating science in Philadelphia. The festival, now in its fourth year, is taking on everything from beer chemistry to the science of sleep to, yes, even the magic of mushrooms. Activities include using forensic science to solve a murder mystery at the Mutter, hearing flash talks from the region’s leading scientists and discerning cures from quackery in a walk through science history at the Laurel Hill Cemetery. 

    With so much going on, The Pulse put director Gerri Trooskin, of the Franklin Institute, in the hot seat to tease a few of this year’s upcoming highlights.

    What event do you think is most likely to gross out visitors?

    We have an event called Ick! this year. It’s reeeeaaaally designed to gross out our visitors. It’s called creatures that make your skin crawl, and we’re looking at gross things that are actually a little bit misunderstood. Everything from pond scum to roaches. And the scientists who love them.

    What’s the best event to bring a first date?

    So this could go either way. It could go either really great or it could be a bad first date, too. It’s Love Lust and Loathing. We have six speakers, three of which are going to talk about love, lust and loathing in humans, and three who are going to explore that in animals. So if love and lust are what comes out of it, then that’s a great first date! If loathing is what you end up being more excited about, maybe it’s not the best first date.

    What activity would you bring kids to?

    There are more than 60 family friendly events, but if I had to choose one, I think Mess Fest at Smith Playground is something that every kid should be excited about. Smith Playground is a historic playground in Fairmount Park, and we’re going to be doing tons of messy explosions. We’re going to have an oobleck, which is corn starch and water. You can’t tell if it’s a solid or a liquid, and it will be an oobleck dance party. It’s going to be a great time.

    Who is Dr. Skateboard?

    We are so excited about Dr. Skateboard coming to town! He is based in California, actually, but his colleagues live here and have an ongoing program called action science. Dr. Skateboard looks at the physics of skateboarding, and he’s going to be at a number of our events. We’re having a science of skateboarding program at Paines Park, right on the river.

    What’s the one event you think will be most talked about?

    We’re doing an event which is sort of unique to Philadelphia called Fanatics, Philadelphia’s love hate relationship with sports. It really is getting into the science of fanaticism and group think and what is the neuroscience and the psychological, psychosocial reason for crazy fandom. And, Philadelphians are really into being fans.

    What sort of real-life skills can someone get from the science festival?

    We actually have an event that’s all about how you can use math to help you win. So anything from fantasy football to scrabble to the Monty Hall problem – which is ‘there are three doors, how do you use the one that has the car behind it?’ – using statistics.

    What event is most likely to blow the mind of returning visitors? I mean, this is the fourth year.

    At the close of the Science Carnival on the parkway, at the very end of the festival, we’re doing a giant launch of alka rockets. So it’s Alka-Seltzer and water in a film canister, and we’re doing 5,000 of those at the end of the festival. We’ll flip two big tables over, and it will be an enormous explosion. It will definitely blow the minds of anybody who’s there.

    Ok so I’ve been wondering, what’s the difference between a science festival and a science fair?

    It’s funny because people, they’ll be like, ‘oh how’s the science fair planning going?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s a festival!’ No disrespect to a science fair because science fairs are important and wonderful. A science fair is really for kids and for teens to show off their science projects. And a science festival is an opportunity to celebrate and to come together in places where we wouldn’t naturally see science happening or we wouldn’t necessarily be celebrating science. It’s an opportunity to really let your inner nerd run free.

    The music heard in the above Pulse segment comes from local artist Chipocrite, who samples 8-bit Gameboy music, and will be performing at the festival opener, Science Carnival After Hours.

    The Pulse will also be hanging out at Science Storytelling, so stop by and say hi!

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