2008 World Science Fair

Posted on 4th June 2008 by Ryan Somma in Adventuring

I and my sister spent the whole day last Saturday hanging around New York University taking in the 2008 World Science Festival. It was the first. It was a hit. I plan to attend again next year.

Disney Imagineering Dr. Anne Savage Shows a GPS Collar for Elephants

Disney Imagineering
Dr. Anne Savage Shows a GPS Collar for Elephants

We started off the morning with a show about Disney Imagineering, all of the physics, chemistry, computer science, and biology that goes into running the park was covered using roller coaster simulations, giant smoke-ring launchers, computer animated characters, and a giant GPS collar for elephants, which was wrapped around a family before being sent out to the festival for us to track them on Google Earth.

FIRST Robotic Competition

FIRST Robotic Competition
(Demonstrating a Marshmallow Shooter)

The park was filled with science musicians, robots playing ball, street scientists, mobile museums, and a multitude of other demos all with science themes. Quite a mentally-engaging circus of events.

Joost Bonsen and Saul Griffith, PhD of Howtoons Demonstrating a Marshmallow Shooter

Joost Bonsen and Saul Griffith, PhD of Howtoons
(Demonstrating a Marshmallow Shooter)

At the author’s stage, I got to see Joost Bonsen and Dr. Saul Griffith of Howtoons fame give a presentation about their awesome comic book and blog. They demonstrated a Zoetrope made from a CD, a Marshmallow Shooter, and Joost Bonsen took some time to draw whatever the kids in the audience could imagine, which involved robots doing homework and room-cleaning.

Dr. Arthur Benjamin, Mathemagician

Dr. Arthur Benjamin, Mathemagician

Immediately following Howtoons was Dr. Arthur Benjamin (aka. The Mathemagician), who squared large numbers thrown at him by the audience faster than the kids could confirm his answers on calculator. The awesome part of Dr. Benjamin’s work and fantastic book, which is queued into my summer reading list, was the way he uses simple techniques anyone can learn through practice to perform the same mental math. In fact, he proved this by bring two children on stage from the audience who had read his book and let them square numbers called out by the audience while their mother giggled beside us with pride.

Vaudeville Science Performance by the Central Park Zoo

Vaudeville Science Performance by the Central Park Zoo

Members of the Central Park Zoo put on a fantastic show about conservation that animated with fantastic energy and comedic talent. Of all the sights that day, this was the one I wish I’d caught on video. Maybe next year.

Faith and Science

Faith and Science

The John Templeton Foundation’s discussion on Faith and Science, was interesting on a philosophical level, especially the way the ordained priest and atheist agreed on all the important points. Nobel Prize-winner, William Phillips, was also present to provide his deist viewpoint.

Quod erat Demonstrandum (QED)

Quod erat Demonstrandum (QED)
“that which was to have been demonstrated”

We hopped a subway train uptown to Columbia University, where we saw Alan Alda as the Physicist Richard Feynman in a reading of the play QED, which was cool for being about Feynman, but I was hoping to see Alda embrace the quirky mannerisms of Feynman’s charm. The play was followed with discussion that included Vera C. Rubin, who discovered dark matter and knew Feynman. Here we learned that the blackboard prop onstage was drawn to match the content of Feynman’s own blackboard the night he passed away.

My sister and I concluded our meal-less (however heavily caffinated) day by getting lost in Greenwich Village trying to find a restaurant in the only part of New York not laid out in a grid (We did eventually succeed, thankfully thanks to cellphones with Internet access).

See the complete flickr set here.


  1. Awesome festival! I totally want to go to the next one.

    I didn’t know much about Feynman’s personality until I recently started reading “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman”. His stories are fascinating! I’ve been wanting to watch the old videos of interviews with him, such as this one: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8777381378502286852

    Comment by Dave — June 4, 2008 @ 5:31 pm

  2. One of my favorite lines in the aforementioned Feynman book:

    “I didn’t want to draw a nude toreador girl being charged by a bull with a mans head, so I tried to talk him out of it.”

    Comment by Dave — June 4, 2008 @ 5:34 pm

  3. That book got added to my reading list the night I saw the play. I’m definitely looking forward to reading it now. The interview is classic. Feyman was such a character.

    Comment by ideonexus — June 4, 2008 @ 11:04 pm

  4. More evidence of his eccentric character from another hilarious line from his book:

    “The next day I rolled up my picture, put it in the back of my station wagon, and my wife Gweneth wished me good luck as I set out to visit the brothels of Pasadena to sell my drawing.”

    I wish my physics professors at Virginia Tech had told these sorts of stories!

    Comment by Dave — June 5, 2008 @ 9:46 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.