World Science Festival 2014: a celebration of reason

New York's annual World Science Festival turns science education into sheer fun.
Image: Morguefile
Date:28 May 2014 Author: Alan Duggan Tags:, , , , , ,

It all comes together in New York this week as world-renowned academics, science buffs, free-thinking researchers and curious members of the public (that’s curious in a good way) gather for World Science Festival 2014, a week-long event aimed at “unlocking the beauty and complexity of science”.

Why do we call it “a celebration of reason”? Because it’s all about using rational thought and human ingenuity to deconstruct our world – and the Universe, for that matter – in such a way that it becomes accessible and exciting.

Launched in 2008, the World Science Festival has been hailed as “a new cultural institution” by no less than The New York Times, and it’s not hard to see why. The WSF combines serious science (and some very famous scientists) with a fun element that attracts thousands of enthusiasts every year, including young people – and therein lies of the joy of this event. How amazing it would be if we had something like this in South Africa.

Kicking off the 2014 programme  is Dear Albert, a play that “delves into the treasure trove of letters written by Albert Einstein, tracing an intimate and unfamiliar line across his life and work”.

Unquestionably one of the greatest – if not the greatest – minds of the 20th century, Einstein was as celebrated for his wit as for his Theory of Relativity. As the organisers describe the event, the reading “humanises a giant in the pantheon of great scientists and sheds light upon his momentous scientific insights through first-hand accounts of groundbreaking discoveries”. After the play, actor Alan Alda (a Festival supporter of long standing) and founder Brian Greene will host a discussion on Einstein.

Also coming up: announcement of the prestigious biennial Kavli Prizes, which recognise scientists for major advances in three research areas: astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience — in other words, the big, the small and the complex. The 2014 winners, sharing a R10 million award in each field, will be announced live via satellite from the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in Oslo. The opening conversation, in tribute to the late philanthropist Fred Kavli, will feature Alan Alda, Brian Greene and Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel.

Other fascinating events scheduled for the next couple of days include “Science and Story: the Write Angle”, in which we can engage with award- winning writers about the wide array of techniques they’re using to humanise science and challenge their readers. Another is “It’s All Relatives: The Science of Your Family Tree”.

As the Festival blurb tells it: “Researching the farthest branches of your family tree is now faster, cheaper, more accessible and more accurate than ever before. Today you can find distant living relatives, learn how you are related to important historical figures or discover how your ancestors participated in major movements in human history.  And, using advanced technologies to analyse face structure and skin pigmentation, evolutionary geneticists can determine what your ancestors actually looked like.”

Participants will be able to join a conversation among leading researchers about how gains in computational power, together with technological innovations, are allowing scientists to come ever closer to understanding how we are all connected. And here’s the fun bit: participating Penn State geneticist Dr Mark Shriver has organised a unique opportunity to volunteer onsite for his lab’s ongoing genetic genealogy research study. Guinea pigs, step forward.

Source: World Science Festival