Ben Franklin Parkway and I-676 bridge construction has forced the Philadelphia Science Festival to move its signature Science Carnival to the Delaware waterfront. And nobody knows whether the festival's longtime lead sponsor, Dow Chemical, will still be so generous if its merger with DuPont goes through.
Still, all parties were beaming in the noonday sun Tuesday at the Great Plaza at Penn's Landing - scene of this year's festival-capping Science Carnival - affirming that this celebration of all things STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) will be making a sixth annual run, April 22 to 29.
Promoting the practical and fun sides of science in everyday life, this year's go-round steered by the Franklin Institute also will offer hands-on happenings such as Discovery Day on April 23 (launching rockets, racing solar-powered cars) and Astronomy Night on April 24 (viewing the skies through giant telescopes) at parks, rec centers, and coworking spaces (NextFab) all across town.
For the bullpen warm-up, the popular pre-fest Science Night at the Ballpark (Phillies vs. Nationals, April 16) will again explore the physics and human anatomy of America's game.
Jocks then take a backseat at happenings like Nerd Nite: What it Means to be Human (April 27) and the closing party, Nerd Olympics (April 29), where geekster joys such as comics, games, fantasy, history, and sci-fi rule, and the night's concessions to "jock science" will be cloistered in a different space: "the Franklin Institute's equivalent of the basement, where the nerds are usually hanging out," Gerri Trooskin, the institute's director of strategic partnerships, suggested with a giggle.
Participants can even tie one on in the name of science at the Cocktail Lab (Monday, April 25 at the Franklin Institute) and with Grow a Pint! - an April 28 deep dig into brewing beer with hopped-up experts from the Morris Arboretum and Yards Brewing. Holding forth at its North Delaware Avenue digs, Yards has also come up with this year's official Science Festival brew, Orang'n of Species.
Given the festival's wide reach, relocating the carnival to Penn's Landing "is not really a big deal," said Franklin Institute CEO Larry Dubinski. Since the riverfront site is "long associated with festivals, the move here - maybe just for a year - could be a blessing in disguise," said Frederic Bertley, the institute's senior vice president of science and education. "It's already inspired the neighboring Independence Seaport Museum to throw open its doors for free that day."
Dow public affairs manager Justin Land was similarly upbeat, praising how the festival raises interest in STEM pursuits among young people and encourages local professionals to connect and work together. "I can tell you Dow has never been more engaged in the project," Land said. "This year more than 100 of our 2,000 regional employees will be participating as Dow STEM ambassadors."
In truth, the festival has triumphed over adversity before. Initial event funding by the National Science Foundation was limited to three years. Organizers weren't sure there would be a fourth.
"In fact, the festival has grown in size and support, this year with 70 plus events [85 percent free], working with 200-plus partners across the region," said Bertley. The foundation has come back with a "bit more money" so Philly fest organizers can share their experience with other towns' universities, for-profit entities, and museums that have gotten the bug to put on a science show. "When we started, there were just a handful, now there are more than 30 in the Science Festival Alliance, Bertley said.
Mounting the festival takes "about $500,000 in donor funds, plus whatever participants put into their individual projects," said Dubinski. Cumulative attendance should reach around 140,000.