Standing in front of Fette Sau’s 100-plus liquor-bottle-lined bar, Adam Piazza presses the “on” button of a black, wand-like device called an Oudin coil. All of a sudden, little purple lighting bolts start shooting through the air like a scene out of Harry Potter.
“Electricity — you know it as something that runs through your house, but did you know it runs all throughout your body? Electrical signals are what keep us alive,” says Piazza, the Franklin Institute’s adult programs specialist. “It’s also all around us, and with the right tools, you can see the current of electrons from your body come to life.”
Piazza points the Oudin coil toward a lightbulb held in his left hand, and suddenly the purple electric streaks bolt right to where his thumb and index finger touch the bulb’s glass. Piazza’s wizard-meets-mad-scientist image is one that you too can harness if you join him at Sunday, April 28’s Fishtown Science Crawl, one of 67 events that make up the Philadelphia Science Festival this year.
Organized and led by the Franklin Institute, in collaboration with 200 local science, cultural, and educational organizations, the festival brings interactive activities to venues across the Delaware Valley. Find a packed, nine-day (April 26-May 4) calendar of happenings at restaurants like Fette Sau, public spaces like the Rail Park, and city attractions like Independence National Historical Park.
“The general public isn’t going to travel to a university for a science talk, and there are many people who aren’t comfortable or interested in going to museums, either,” says Ellen Trappey, managing officer of the Philadelphia Science Festival. “So we take science to the people, whether it’s in a bar or a park or a library, and we do it in a highly hands-on way.”
The fest kicks off with a Citywide Star Party (Friday, April 26), drawing eyes to the sky through telescopes set up at the Battleship New Jersey, Laurel Hill Cemetery, and nearly two dozen other locations. Afterward, those 21 and older can head to the Star Party After Party at the Franklin Institute, where adults are invited to keep the stargazing going through 1 a.m. The cash bar event also features a silent rooftop disco and the world premiere of a collaborative ballet and video piece, bringing together the beauty of science and art in the Institute’s Planetarium.
Certainly the biggest happening of the Philadelphia Science Festival is its annual marquee Science Carnival on the Parkway (Saturday, May 4). The free, all-day event transforms the Benjamin Franklin Parkway into a giant block party with science demos, games, and other STEM-related entertainment from over 150 exhibitors. Be sure to pull out your camera for the mega, liquid-nitrogen-induced explosion scheduled for 3:45 p.m.
In between the festival kickoff and finale, find tons of other outdoor-oriented events, too, like the Science in the Park events taking over public green spaces in North and West Philadelphia, and the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education’s fort-building competition and pond ecology hike, all on Saturday, April 27.
Meanwhile, on April 28, a bubble extravaganza descends on the Rail Park. Pop on by the former rail viaduct to create and view soap masterpieces of all kinds, sip on bubble tea, and learn about the scientific bubbles in your body.
If you can swing it, carve out some time that same afternoon to visit one of nearly two dozen premiere research institutions opening their doors to the public. Visitors can gain insight into what life is like as a zoologist, paleontologist, river ecologist, and beyond. Kids can also grab a stethoscope alongside doctors and nurses at one of four participating hospitals where teddy bear checkups are available.
Throughout the festival, find STEM professionals leading after-school programming at 10 different libraries (April 29-May 1). Families can learn about things from how to code a video game to what’s under the wrappings of mummies to how to navigate a boat using a naval simulator.
“There are so many amazing STEM projects going on in the city of Philadelphia, but unless you’re in those circles, you don’t always get to know what’s happening,” says Trappey. “These events bring out people from all disciplines — from car mechanics to engineers to chemists — that are there to directly share what they’re doing, and in a really engaging way.”