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.

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.

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.

The Pleiades star cluster, aka “Seven Sisters” (Credit: NASA, ESA and AURA/Caltech)

The Pleiades star cluster, aka “Seven Sisters” (Credit: NASA, ESA and AURA/Caltech)

A giant grizzly bear chases seven little girls. In desperation, the girls scramble onto a low rock, but they know the bear will easily reach them there.

As the bear rears up on its hind legs, one girl prays to the spirit of the rock: “Rock, take pity on us! Rock, save us!”

The rock hears them. And it begins to grow.

The bear just misses the girls as it slashes out at them. Instead, its claws make deep scratches into the side of the rock.

Imagine that a giant bear scratched the deep grooves in this rock. (Credit: National Park Service, www.nps.gov/deto)

Imagine that a giant bear scratched the deep grooves in this rock. (Credit: National Park Service, www.nps.gov/deto)

As the girls keep praying and the rock keeps growing and lifting them, the bear jumps higher and higher, creating more deep grooves in the rock. The seven girls finally escape into the sky and become stars.

That’s a Kiowa version of how the Pleiades star cluster – also known as the “Seven Sisters” – came to be. You can see these stars, which look like they’re huddling together for safety, during most of the night this time of year.

The rock really exists, too, stretching more than 800 feet into the sky. It’s in Wyoming where it is known by various names, including Devils Tower. Blog readers of a certain generation may recognize this rock from the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

It’s a good thing these girls escaped to the sky. (Painting by Herbert Collins, www.nps.gov/deto)

It’s a good thing these girls escaped to the sky. (Painting by Herbert Collins, www.nps.gov/deto)

To hear the full story about the scary bear, along with a few other star stories appropriate for the Halloween season, please join us for Scare-olina Skies:

  • Two evening shows are aimed at adult audiences (older teens welcome): Saturday, Oct. 26, and Wednesday, Oct. 30, both at 8 p.m.
  • Families with younger children should choose one of the afternoon shows: Saturday, Oct. 26, at 2:30 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 27, at 3:30 p.m.

A story about the Pleiades and Devils Tower will be told each time, but the Arikara version in the adult program will unfold quite differently from the Kiowa version.

Medusa also makes an appearance at Scare-olina Skies.

The Moon on Friday morning, Sept. 27, 2013

What the Moon will look like at 9 a.m. EST Friday, Sept. 27, 2013 – but picture a blue sky as the background. (Credit: “Dial-A-Moon”; NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

If you have not seen the Moon in the daytime lately, the next couple of mornings provide a good opportunity.

At its current phase — last quarter — the Moon rises roughly around midnight and sets around noon. Tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 27, 2013), the Moon reaches its highest point in the sky in the south around 7:30 a.m. After that, the Moon slides westward, finally setting around 2:30 p.m. It’s worth looking Saturday, too (add about 45 minutes to those times).

So you might step outside to look for the Moon after you wake up tomorrow, or during your morning commute (unless you’re the driver!), or during lunchtime. The Moon will appear about half lit, on the side facing the Sun.

But don’t wait too many more days to look for the daytime Moon. Although the Moon rises and sets later each day, providing more daytime hours to potentially see it, it also appears less and less lit each day from Earth’s point of view as the Moon’s phase heads from last quarter to waning crescent. On October 4, 2013, it’ll be New Moon – when it’s up all day (and only in the day). But it’s only the side facing away from Earth that’s lit. So you won’t see it.

Want to learn more about the Moon? Mark your calendar for International Observe the Moon Night, on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. That evening, from 7 to 9 p.m. (weather permitting), Morehead will host a skywatching session at Jordan Lake, at Ebenezer Church Recreation Area. The Moon will be just past first quarter on October 12 and visible in the afternoon and evening sky.

In addition to telescopes and binoculars, the session will feature a few Moon-related demos as well as Moon stories shared by storytellers from UNC’s School of Information and Library Science. This event is free. Join us!

Weather permitting, you have another skywatching opportunity: this Friday (9/27/13) from 8-10 p.m. at Little River Regional Park. No Moon but plenty else to see through the telescopes.

07 Mar 2013
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Does Orion look like this to you? You must be looking from a dark site, such as Ocracoke Island, NC. Or there is a massive power outage.

How dark is your sky? The constellations will tell you. The more stars you can see in a given constellation, such as Orion or Leo, the darker your sky.

By going outside at least one hour after sunset and making simple observations about the stars you can see, you can participate in a worldwide citizen-science project to map light pollution around the globe.

Everything you need to know can be found at the GLOBE at Night website. The site has activity packets designed for families and teachers.

This is how Orion looked tonight from outside Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill, NC, where many outdoor lights are unshielded, washing out the fainter stars—and failing to light the ground effectively and efficiently.

Through March 12, you can use Orion to collect your data. For later campaigns — March 31-April 9 and April 29-May 8 — use Leo instead. (If you stumbled across this blog from the southern hemisphere, you can use Crux, the Southern Cross.)

Submit your data online with GLOBE at Night’s web app. Your data helps create an interactive map of observations worldwide. Then you can compare your results with others’ reports.

Want to learn more about dark skies? Join us for “Our Vanishing Night” at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center on Saturday, March 9, 2013, from 3:30-4:15 p.m.

Orion has lost his belt and is unrecognizable. Perhaps you are in Manhattan. (Orion images from globeatnight.org)

You’ll learn how to identify the stars of Orion, Leo, and other constellations; hear a cultural star story or two; see a light shielding demo that will amaze you; and experience the planetarium sky at varying levels of light pollution, including a pristine dark sky lit only by thousands of stars and the Milky Way.

Amy Sayle was the 6,384th Citizen Scientist to submit data to GLOBE at Night.

06 Feb 2013
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Composite image of Mercury taken by the MESSENGER mission (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

Want to catch a glimpse of a planet few people have knowingly seen? For viewers at mid-northern latitudes, next week offers 2013’s best evening apparition of Mercury. About 45 minutes after sunset, try looking for Mercury as a pinpoint of light low in the west, above the spot where the Sun set.

It will be easier to see Mercury starting around Feb. 9, 2013, but if skies are clear where you live it’s definitely worth trying Feb. 7 and 8, when Mercury meets up with Mars in evening twilight. Look low in the west about a half hour after sunset, and use binoculars to help you spot dimmer Mars. Both those evenings the two planets are well within one degree of each other—less than the width of your pinky finger when held at arm’s length.

Why is Mercury usually a difficult planet to observe? As the innermost planet to the Sun, Mercury never appears to stray far from the Sun in our sky. So it can become visible only low in the west just after sunset, or low in the east just before sunrise.

To join the club of people who have knowingly seen Mercury, please join Morehead for a skywatching session the evening of Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. Weather permitting, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. we’ll be at Jordan Lake, at Ebenezer Church Recreation Area. This site provides an excellent view of the western horizon over the lake. To see Mercury before it sets, arrive near the beginning of the session.

If you miss Mercury in the evening sky this month, try again in late May through mid-June.