Credit: Tyler Nordgren

Credit: Tyler Nordgren

On April 4 and 5, 2014, forty sites from the mountains to the coast will host skywatching sessions for the public, as part of North Carolina’s second annual Statewide Star Party. Hosts include astronomy clubs, parks, nature centers, planetariums, observatories, museums, and universities.

What might you do at a star party event?

1) Look through telescopes. Virtually all star party events will offer telescope observing, many of them with the generous help of local astronomy clubs.

2) Observe the Sun. Several sites will host daytime events with safe solar observing, including Catawba Science Center, Crowders Mountain, Howell Woods, Kathleen Clay Edwards Library, Marbles Kids Museum, Medoc Mountain State Park, and Yadkin County Park.

3) See the Moon. The waxing crescent Moon will be up during the afternoon and evening of April 4 and 5.

A skywatching event at Jordan Lake

Credit: Brian Owen

4) View Jupiter and Mars. Through a telescope, you can see up to four of Jupiter’s moons, too.

5) Gaze at the stars. Constellations such as Orion and Leo will decorate the evening sky.

6) Do other activities. Depending on which event you choose, you can hike on a dune, paddle on a lake, design an alien, build a moon phaser, test your astronaut skills, touch a space shuttle tire, check out robot driving races, or participate in a phases of the Moon basketball challenge.

Find a star party event near you at the NC Science Festival website. You can see detailed listings by filtering the online calendar for the event dates April 4 and 5. (Note: A couple of star party events have been re-scheduled for April 11 or April 12.) Most events are free. A few require advance registration.

NC Statewide Star Party events

Find a star party event near you at www.ncsciencefestival.org

Important! Most events are weather permitting. Check with individual sites about any back-up plans they may have in case of clouds or rain.

The NC Science Festival’s annual Statewide Star Party is made possible through the generous support of the NC Space Grant.

US Map stating Nation's First Statewide Science Festival

First again, NC

A few months ago, I challenged our event partners to get weird. They listened. This year’s line-up features some of the most fun and funky science events we’ve ever had. Here are a few (in no particular order)  to whet your appetite for the 17-day science madness that starts THIS FRIDAY.

10.  Cemetery Sleuths: People Are Dying To Try It!

The team at Raleigh’s beautiful and historic Oakwood Cemetery have started doing some incredible public outreach. This event features a science and history scavenger hunt.

9.  Big Toy Day at the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market

This event is my fault. Proudly, I might add. Why? Because A. I have a nephew who, whenever he sees any sort of big truck, completely freaks out and needs to be near it; and B. I attended a meeting where a power company official was saying that with proficiency in STEM, young people can earn $70K/year working on line trucks for utility companies.

By combining A & B, we get a great community outreach event where companies operating STEM trucks can show off what they do and TRUCKS! TRUUUCCKS, UNCLE JON!!!

8.  Mad Scientist Revenge Race

Crossfit fanatics, this one’s for you:  an epic obstacle course team challenge combining science and fitness. Let’s get ready to rumble!

7.  Rational Comedy for an Irrational Planet

Right there on April Fool’s Day, folks, Earth’s premier science comedian takes the stage at the Museum of Natural Sciences.

6. Science of Art Conservation

Like a little art with your science? A little science with your art? This event is being produced by the NC Museum of Art’s Contemporaries group and is a GREAT DATE MOVE. Trust me on that.

Lab kids

Life & Science's Meet a Scientist features bilingual experts (Spanish-English) and hands-on activities

5. Conoce a un(a) Cientifico(a)

Want to meet amazing scientists? Want to speak Spanish? Come do both at this fantastic bilingual event at Durham’s Museum of Life & Science. So grateful and impressed with the team over there!

4.  Terrapin Tally

People of NC, Science NEEDS YOU!  We’re huge fans of citizen science. This event is a training for a big diamondback terrapin count happening in May. If you don’t know what diamondback terrapins looks like, think of the cutest turtles ever. Now add polka dots. So adorable.

3.14. Carowinds Education Days

Thanks to their good work with Discovery Place, our favorite amusement park drops a little roller coaster science on you.

3.  Zucchini 500

It’s like a pinewood derby but with produce. So much fun and so many pun possibilities.

2.78.  SUMOBOTS!

This is like a glimpse of the future when all our sports are handled by our robots. Check out this youtube clip with an epic battle at about the 1 min mark.

2.  Surf-N-Science

Yuri's Night Logo

Yuri's Night: The Worldwide Space Party

Think all you need to surf is a sandy blonde mullet? Well, you’re wrong. You also need to know a little bit about physics.

1. Yuri’s Night

The worldwide space party is going down on April 12. Thanks to some enterprising UNC students, downtown Chapel Hill is in the mix.

And that barely scratches the surface. So many cool events this year. In fact, there are over 400 events that are completely searchable and share-able right from here. Find some near you. And– oh yeah—

The fun starts this Friday!!!

Jonathan

Jonathan Frederick directs the North Carolina Science Festival, an initiative of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. This year's Festival runs from March 28 - April 13, 2014.

TL;DR version: Yes.

Slightly longer version:

There’s a debate raging behind the scenes in the science education world. Should STEM — traditionally defined as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — be expanded to include the Arts (STEAM), or Religion (STREAM), or Health (uhhh…SHTEM)? The question has been met with eye rolls and sighs; meetings filled with derisive laughter, lots of shouting and lukewarm coffee being thrown in people’s faces.

STEM bumper sticker

Strategies That Engage Minds... you betcha.

That last part may be overstated. (The coffee in the face part, that is. I have witnessed firsthand some high-quality eye rolling about the idea of STEAM. What can I say? Science educators have strong opinions. It’s why I love ‘em.)

People who know me know that when it comes to this kind of stuff, I tend to default to my taxonomy metaphor (which gets its own pretty fantastic set of eye rolls…). In taxonomy, you have your lumpers and you have your splitters. Your lumpers are people who want to find similarities in organisms and clump similar ones together. Your splitters on the other hand, like focusing on differences. They want to separate out organisms based on differing traits. They make distinctions for the sake of order and end up with lots of clearly defined categories. Both approaches have merits and make sense.

Which is why, when people ask me about STEAM, or ESTEAM, or STREAM, or SHTEAM, I pretty much say this:

“I don’t care.”

I don’t. Which is not to say I don’t think it’s important to think about. But I honestly don’t care about that as much as I care about interesting events and innovative activities. I want people to be able to attend high quality events that capture their imaginations and make them want to do more, learn more and play more. I don’t see our Science Festival as strictly a science festival. I see it as a celebration carefully crafted to give people access to information and opportunity. It’s about stuff. The world is full of amazing stuff and Science is here to help you navigate that. Art is here to help you navigate that. Religion is here to help you navigate that.

Connecting Science to the Arts, to Religion, to Entrepreneurship, and to Wellness is all great to me. Teaching them as separate and distinct things is fine and dandy, too. I want more of all of it.

Ultimately, we want people to have a fond association with Science however they get connected to it. That’s why I’m personally very excited to see an ESTEAM event on our calendar this year, a STREAM event on our calendar this year, and of course, dozens of fantastic, straight-up STEM events.

Our good friend and head of the SMT Center, Dr. Sam Houston, says it well. Instead of STEM meaning Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, why don’t we think about it another way? He goes with “Strategies That Engage Minds.”

And that, my friends, is something all of us lumpers and splitters can get behind.

See you out there in a couple of weeks,

Jonathan

Jonathan Frederick directs the North Carolina Science Festival, an initiative of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. This year's Festival is slated to be our biggest yet, starting on Friday, March 28 and running through April 13. To find events near you, please see: www.ncsciencefestival.org.

That’s right:  towns. Which is probably the hardest thing to wrap your head around when conceptualizing our statewide science festival. Allow me to explain:

The fourth annual North Carolina Science Festival kicks off on Friday, March 28. For 17 straight days there are hundreds of science events happening all over the state. We’re basically putting a big circus tent on top of NC and throwing a big science party.

Map of festival events

Sneak peak at your 2014 NC Science Festival

All sorts of amazing partners are getting in on the act. Museums — not solely science museums, mind you — amusement parks, zoos, colleges, shopping malls, bars & restaurants, breweries (science of beer, anyone?), parks, businesses — you name it, we probably have an event if not in it, then near it.

At last count there are over 700 events on our calendar. (Our calendar… I’ll get back to that in a minute). Some of this year’s highlights include the return of our wildly successful Statewide Star Party, a visit from Mr. Cosmos himself, Neil deGrasse Tyson, a science-themed fitness race, over a dozen science expos (think “street fairs”), an April Fool’s Day science comedy night, and the return of our NC Science Summit. There’s literally something for everyone. And I literally mean literally.

When we started this Festival, we wanted to work hard to put high quality science events near every North Carolinian. This year, I think we’ve achieved our goal thanks to our partners, our sponsors, and the fantastic Morehead team.

I invite you to peruse our calendar and start picking out events to attend. Fair warning: the calendar is gigantic. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Our web team has put together a bunch of different ways to search for events you might like. You can find events by geography, topic, day/time, etc. So narrow it down and go crazy.

It’s Festival time!

Jonathan Frederick directs the North Carolina Science Festival, an initiative of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.

Evidently, being scheduled to present Valentine’s planetarium shows does not qualify one as “emergency personnel” at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Were the University not closed (on February 14, 2014) because of the weather, one legend of love you could have heard at Morehead Planetarium’s now-canceled “Carolina Skies: Valentine edition” is the Estonian folktale of Lindu’s wedding veil.

Imagine the Milky Way as a really, really long wedding veil. (Credit: NASA, ESA, Z. Levay (STScI/AURA).)

Imagine the Milky Way as a really, really long wedding veil. (Credit: NASA, ESA, Z. Levay (STScI/AURA).)

Lindu is courted by several astronomical suitors, who one by one ask for her hand in marriage – and along the way, teach story listeners a few things about the sky.

First comes North Star, who resides above the North Pole, essentially unmoving day and night. “I would make a dependable husband,” he claims, “because you would always know where to find me.”

After Lindu rejects North Star (“he would never take me anywhere”), Moon glides out of the sky to propose. “I would make a romantic husband,” he says to Lindu. “With me, you will travel to a new place each night.”

But Lindu rejects Moon because his path is so narrow. Besides, he’s so changeable.

Next, Sun arrives to proclaim that “with me, you will light the day!” But Lindu worries that Sun’s harsh glare means she’d be lost in his shadow. She says no to Sun.

Finally, Prince Borealis, Lord of the Northern Lights, descends from the sky. His light is gentle, he says, and he travels, but on no narrow path. He comes and goes over the sky as he pleases!

Lindu agrees to marry him, perhaps not thinking through carefully enough the implications of a fiancé who runs completely on his own schedule.

After dancing across the sky with her, Prince Borealis fades away with the dawn, telling Lindu to prepare for the wedding. She begins to weave a wedding veil, awaiting his return.

But Prince Borealis doesn’t come back. As the nights go on, Lindu continues to weave, her veil stretching longer and longer. Eventually, Lindu’s veil drifts delicately from one end of the sky to the other.

Look up on the next clear night. If your sky is dark enough, you can see Lindu’s veil, also known as the Milky Way.

UPDATE 2/1/14: SKYWATCHING IS CANCELLED FOR TONIGHT. We’ll try again on March 8.

If the weather permits, please join us this Saturday (Feb. 1, 2014) for our next skywatching session at Jordan Lake. We plan to be at Ebenezer Church Recreation Area from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Telescopes provided!

We’ll look at the waxing crescent Moon, the planet Jupiter, and other celestial wonders. Also planned are constellation tours and star storytelling. Come near the beginning of the session if you’d like to catch Mercury before it sets.

Saturn sign and image by Jack Roach.

Saturn sign and image by Jack Roach.

Thanks to local amateur astronomer Jack Roach, you may even see Saturn—in a way. He’s made a Saturn-like lighted sign to help mark the turnoff from the main road into Ebenezer Church Recreation Area at Jordan Lake. (You’ll have to wait till May to see the real Saturn during a Morehead skywatching session.)

See Morehead’s skywatching page for more information on our skywatching sessions at Jordan Lake and other sites, including links to directions and Frequently Asked Questions.

Important: Jordan Lake skywatching is weather permitting. Before you head out to a skywatching session, always check the Morehead website to make sure there’s not a cancellation notice.

Also mark your calendar for April 4 and 5, 2014, for the 2nd annual Statewide Star Party, featuring dozens of public skywatching events across North Carolina.

Jupiter is currently hanging out in the direction of Gemini, the constellation from which the Geminid meteors appear to originate. (Credit: Stellarium)

Jupiter is currently hanging out in the direction of Gemini, the constellation from which the Geminid meteors appear to originate. (Credit: Stellarium)

First, the good news about the 2013 Geminid meteor shower:

  • The peak night happens at a convenient time for many people, the beginning of the weekend:  Friday evening, Dec. 13, through Saturday morning, Dec. 14, 2013.
  • Even better for most of us, this meteor shower can provide good viewing in the evening hours.  It’s worth trying to spot Geminids as early as 9 or 10 p.m.
  • This is a strong, reliable shower, with up to one or two meteors visible per minute under dark skies.

Now, the not-so-good news:

  • Speaking of dark skies, for this year’s Geminids a waxing gibbous moon will be up most of the night. This means moonlight will wash out the dimmer meteors from view. Expect to see the most meteors (if it’s clear) on Saturday morning after moonset and before morning twilight. For those of you in the Chapel Hill area, your window is between roughly 4:45 and 5:45 a.m. Saturday. (Sorry.)

And finally, the potentially really bad news:

  • Your sky might not be clear. For the Triangle area, current forecasts call for clouds to arrive the night of Dec. 13/14.
Wait till this bright thing sets, and you’ll spot more meteors—that is, if it isn’t cloudy. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

Wait till this bright thing sets, and you’ll spot more meteors—that is, if it isn’t cloudy. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

So you might try looking tonight (Dec. 12/13, 2013) – the Geminids are already active, and it looks like North Carolina and most of the southeast U.S. will have clear skies. And one expert thinks that the peak will occur earlier, meaning that Friday morning the 13th could actually be the best time to look, after moonset (3:43 a.m. Friday for Chapel Hill) and before dawn.

If you decide to view Geminid meteors, try to find a dark place away from unshielded lights with an open view of the sky. Wear really warm clothes, and bring a reclining chair or sleeping bag. Look toward the darkest part of your sky, away from the Moon and any unshielded lights.

Geminid meteors appear to radiate away from the constellation Gemini, but you don’t need to know how to find Gemini to see the meteors. They can appear in any part of the sky.

If Friday the 13th turns into an unlucky night of clouds, don’t despair. As part of Morehead’s 2nd Friday event, Science on the Sundial, we’ll have an 8 p.m. Carolina Skies show, where we can simulate a meteor shower for you.

Under Morehead’s planetarium dome, the forecast always calls for comfortable temperatures and clear skies.

This photo is right side up—the projector is mounted at an angle.

This photo is right side up—the projector is mounted at an angle.

How many planetarium people does it take to change a light bulb?

If we’re talking about the bulbs in the projectors that run Morehead’s planetarium shows, the answer is 3:

  • 1 person to crawl into tiny spaces behind the walls of the planetarium theater and crouch for minutes at a time while dealing with hard-to-reach screws and bolts.
  • A 2nd person to keep parts of the projector from falling onto the 1st person’s head.
  • A 3rd person to ferry tools back and forth and to entertain the first two people by attempting (and completely failing) to come up with good light bulb jokes.

3 is also the number of hours it takes to change the four bulbs in the two projectors.

Careful! Each bulb costs $1,650. And can explode if not handled correctly.

Careful! Each bulb costs $1,650. And can explode if not handled correctly.

It takes 3 people to change the bulbs and then many thousands of visitors to enjoy the results.

Ferris Wheel in Liseberg, Sweden

Ever play science roulette? Me neither. In Gothenburg, Sweden, festival organizers had the brilliant idea to put a scientist on each of the cars of a ferris wheel. When you got on, you rode with a scientist and learned a little bit about what s/he does. You didn’t know which scientist was going to be in which car, hence: roulette.

Know anyone with a nerdy tattoo? I do. (Comes with the territory when you’re in the biz.) Last year, the Philadelphia Science Festival hosted Science Ink featuring Carl Zimmer and a body artist to talk about scientists with science-y tattoos as well as the use of tattoos in modern medicine.

Each year, the Bay Area Science Festival takes over an aircraft carrier in San Francisco Bay to host a Nerd Nite at Sea complete with food, drink and science demonstrations. Nerd. Nite. At. Sea. How fun is that? (Even if they do spell “night” wrong.)

I’m bringing these funky events to your attention as a challenge to the good people of North Carolina. The NC Science Festival is putting out the call for event submissions for our 2014 Festival. The dates are March 28 – April 13, 2014. Each year, we’ve been thrilled at all of the wonderful events our partners have come up with. This year, we’d like to see more. We’d like to engage new audiences. I’m convinced that we’re the best science festival in all the land. But we still want (need!) to be better. So I’m looking at all of you, you Ignites and SparkCons, you TEDx organizers and 5K fun run fundraisers. We want you! The Festival is the perfect time to captivate crowds and get people talking your language.

A science of beer event featuring beers with science-style names (Rocket Science with Rocket Scientists serving Rocket Science IPA, anyone?).

A Reverse Science Fair where scientists have to explain their research to kids?

A robot zoo?

A video game tournament with looks behind the scenes at computer programming?

How about an app off? Come pitch your new app in front of the adoring masses and get voted as the best.

So many ideas I start to forget what I’m typing about. What I do know is that we would love for you to get involved. We’re the first and one of the few statewide science festivals. There’s room for everybody.

For details on hosting official NC Science Festival events, please go here.

Keep those ideas coming. And by all means, contact me anytime with suggestions. The wackier, the better.

Jonathan Frederick directs the North Carolina Science Festival, an initiative of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.

bar graph of evaluation data

Credit: Dr. Karen Peterman, Karen Peterman Consulting Company

Thanks to the support and foresight of the NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation, we’re fortunate to be able to work with Dr. Karen Peterman, a leading expert on science festival evaluation. She has collected and analyzed data for our 2012 and 2013 science festivals. (Considering the statewide nature of what we do, this is no minor chore.)

On September 12, 2013, Dr. Peterman presented to the NC Science Festival Board of Advisors. We thought we’d share some of our favorite findings from that report.

1.  NCSCIFEST events have increased both in quantity and in quality – There’s more to do each year AND the activities people get to do get better each year.

2. Our Elementary School Science Night program is so good, we don’t need to evaluate it anymore, anytime soon. It’s true. That’s what Dr. Peterman told us. For context:  Each year, we provide kits to NC elementary schools to throw science parties. These kits are full of carefully selected and refined hands-on activities. They’ve been so well received and the evaluation numbers are so solid, we’re going to focus on other things to evaluate in coming years.

FYI:  this year our goal is to provide 110 Science Night Kits to elementary schools across the state.

3.  The more hands-on and the more experts, the better. People like science events. If you want people to LOVE science events, you add two things:  hands-on activities and include a scientist. That’s why we’re always encouraging scientists to get involved in all of our events. Our data clearly shows how much value experts add to the experiences!

(IMPORTANT SIDE-NOTE: Just as the word “Science” in NC Science Festival is meant to be a blanket term referring to STEM, we use “scientist” to refer to all STEM experts, including engineers, computer scientists, mathematicians, and medical professionals.)

4.  When people come to NCSCIFEST events, they do more science “stuff” afterward. They talk about it with others. They look for more information. They do more activities related to the Festival event they attended. This is exciting because 1. I’m a nerd; and 2. because we really want to be able to point to longer-term, positive outcomes of our annual celebration.

5.  Festival attendees were more racially and ethnically diverse in 2013 as compared to 2012. We still have a ways to go to meet our goals for participation, but we’re on the right track. We are committed to engaging increasingly diverse audiences and look forward to supporting events that do the same.

6. The Festival provides NEW OPPORTUNITIES for our partners. 62% of our hosts reported that they learned new public communication strategies as a result of Festival participation. 80% reported an increase in opportunities to communicate with the public. 68% gained greater confidence. 47% reported new partnerships with community groups. 44% reported new professional collaborations. 37% reported follow up visits or enrollment from Festival attendees. 13% reported new funding opportunities.

The Festival could not/would not exist without our hundreds of event partners across the state, so having these types of outcomes are great. They demonstrate the types of win-wins we’re going for when we invite new partners to get involved.

7.  The Festival is FUN. Our events are teaching about STEM careers. We’re increasing the awareness of how STEM is connected to our daily lives. We’re teaching something new about STEM. But most of all:  we’re making STEM learning fun, year in and year out. That’s probably my favorite fact.

Our long term goal is to have 1 million NC residents participating each year in Festival activities. To learn more about the 2012 and 2013 NC Science Festivals, you can review our final reports here.

The 2014 NC Science Festival will be March 28 – April 13, 2014. Stay tuned — or better yet — sign up for our e-Newsletter here: www.ncsciencefestival.org.

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Peterman’s report, you can listen to a slidecast of it here. For more about Peterman Consulting, please go here.

Jonathan Frederick is the director of the North Carolina Science Festival.