What happens when you combine curiosity, families, and science and technology? You’d know the answer to that question and lots more if you attended the Philadelphia Science Festival, a massive science carnival held over nine days featuring hands-on experiments and demonstrations that showcased how science connects to our everyday lives.
“Wow,” and, “That’s cool,” were typical reactions as experts from multiple departments and centers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and its Research Institute engaged thousands of attendees during the festival’s signature carnival April 30 by exploring questions essential to improving child health: How are the eyes the window to the brain? What do you know about vaccines and the heroes who made them? How are button batteries dangerous?
“The festival helps us build awareness and bridge the gap between science and child health and wellness,” said David Taylor, assistant director of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at CHOP. “There were some great interactive experiences.”
Clinicians and researchers from CHOP’s department of Audiology and division of Ophthalmology, for example, ran a booth that showed how sound waves work. They captured the sounds of children saying their names into a microphone and then electronically created voice prints that graphically represented their voices’ component frequencies.
Throughout the course of the week, collaborative efforts of CHOP researchers and clinicians demonstrated their commitment to educating the community about the intersection of science and child health. Funds from the CHOP Research Institute and the Office of Government Affairs, Community Relations & Advocacy allowed organizers from the CHOP Office of Responsible Research Training to plan and host seven events with 12 exhibiting groups, about a six-fold increase in their participation level from last year.
During Discovery Day at Clark Park in West Philadelphia, enthusiastic visitors learned from the Center for Mitochondrial and Epigenomic Medicine’s research team about how mitochondria work, which are the tiny energy-producing factories in our cells. A stargazing party held at CHOP’s Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pediatric Care Center featured local astronomers who showed young attendees new perspectives of Jupiter and the moon. CHOP emergency medicine experts stopped by local library branches to chat with the afterschool crowd and share tips on how to stay healthy, such as brushing teeth and getting a good night’s sleep.
“People throughout the region and country know CHOP for their excellent patient care, but it’s also important for them to know we also focus on research, preventive care and wellness,” said Holly Burnside, a clinical program research manager who helped to organize CHOP’s educational outreach efforts held during the festival.
At Science Night at the Ball Park, staff from CHOP’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention and the division of Orthopedics teamed up with the Phillies to promote awareness of concussions and demonstrate how these common brain injuries occur. They placed models of brains made out of red gelatin on baking sheets coated with cooking spray and then covered the brains with glass bowls that represented skulls. When the children moved the tray, they could see how a blow or jolt to the head or body can cause the brain to shake and hit the skull.
While these activities encouraged children to think about the importance of healthy minds and bodies, the festival also provided an opportunity for young adults to get excited about future careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and learn about the incredible resources available at CHOP for student scholars. Taylor participated in a panel discussion with Out4STEM, a group that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth interested in pursuing STEM careers. They discussed some of the challenges that LGBTQ, women, and minority groups frequently encounter as STEM professionals, such as finding good mentors and navigating crucial conversations.
Most of the festival events were family-oriented, but even adults could “get nerdy” during the Fishtown Science Crawl. Bar-hoppers enjoyed happy hour pricing and science-related conversations, including a presentation from CHOP’s division of Human Genetics: What can family history tell us?
Overall attendance at The Philadelphia Science Festival, organized by The Franklin Institute for the sixth consecutive year, has grown to about 95,000, helping to spark dialogues about STEM topics and inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.
(And if you haven’t figured out the answer to our first question yet, it’s … a ton of fun! Stay tuned for more interactive activities that showcase the connection between science and child health and wellness at next year’s celebration.)