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Some university presidents, NYC School Chancellor Joel Klein, physicist Dr Brian Greene, Alan Alda and professor Dr Bunsen Honeydew (of Muppet Labs) sponsored a World Science Festival.
Held May 28 through June 1 2008, the Festival was part of a dream to make New York City the center of the science universe — as it already is for the world of commerce, art and fine dining.
During the festival, the city hummed with discussions, presentations, art, music and dancing, all related to making real science present and understandable to ordinary people.
Biologists discussed the perils and promise of genetic codes. Quantum physicists debated the nature of reality. Neuroscientists pondered the mysteries of creativity. The Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir serenaded scientists to demonstrate the effects of music on the brain.
The festival was the first of what is expected to be an annual event. It is the brainchild of Dr Greene and his companion Tracy Day, an Emmy Award-winning TV producer.
They said they were concerned that the public was missing out on the excitement and relevance of science.
“The general public by and large doesn’t connect with science in a significant way, “says Dr Greene. “Science is inspirational, it’s exciting, it can influence lives.”
This was not “fun” science, Greene said; “this is the real thing.” The goal is to move science from the fringes of things to the center.
A long list of sponsors signed on, including the Sloan, the James Simons, the Templeton, the Rockefeller, and the Cullman Foundations; Columbia and New York Universities, Cooper Union, Rockefeller University and CUNY. The main corporate sponsor was Credit Suisse.
New York University was the epicenter and the host of a daylong street fair on May 31. Events were held all over, however, from Columbia to the Guggenheim to the Metropolitan Museum to the Museum of Modern Art, as well as smaller theaters and lecture halls.
A couple of events, on the science of sports, were held at the Coles Sports Center at NYU.
The festival kicked off with a closed one-day gathering at Columbia called the World Science Summit. Modeled after the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, about 100 scientists and thinkers, including Nobel laureates and business, academic, cultural and government leaders talked about the impact of cutting-edge science on the world.
Tracy Day described the event as an occasion on which “science can drive a conversation that usually leaves it behind.”
The rest of the program was divided into three parts. “Signature events” like a discussion on parallel universes and creativity were aimed at general audiences. Several others were geared toward people who may not know that they are interested in science but are hungry for art and culture; these included discussions of memory and the brain as shown in “The Bourne Ultimatum,” and a dance based on Dr Greene’s book “The Elegant Universe.”
These audiences came for the art and left with the science, said Ms. Day.
The presence of Dr Bunsen Honeydew, of “Muppet Labs”, suggested the third audience. There were robots, magicians, and “mathemagicians.” The Disney “Imagineers” explained how science and engineering can create illusions.
Dr Honeydew had promised that the family-oriented programs would show “that science can be as explosive and violent as any TV program,” (after which he sprayed Dr Greene with a can of silly string).
sole source: article by Dennis Overbye in the NY Times on 4/3/08. www.nytimes.com
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