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World Science Festival 2014

Making science accessible and relevant, this year's program features a civil discussion of the Big Bang, pie-o-physics and Paul Rudd as Einstein

by Nara Shin in Culture on 21 May 2014

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While the younger generation may have had entertaining outlets like "The Magic School Bus" book series or "Bill Nye the Science Guy" to make science relevant and accessible, lucky New Yorkers of all ages—especially adults—have the World Science Festival. We wrote about the festival when it first began back in 2008, and the now-annual event has not drifted from its dedication to unique content that gets attendees in a tizzy about this sometimes esoteric subject.

Brian Greene (the Columbia University professor, physicist and author whose books are known for bringing theoretical physics to a general audience) and his wife Tracy Day (journalist and former ABC News producer) are the festival co-founders, and together they have assembled a diverse slate of talks, workshops, film screenings and more that are as thrilling as they are thought-provoking. With topics such as the bionic body, the human experience of time and the quantum measurement problem, the festival offers something for a wide audience—from the child who hopes to become an astronaut to postdocs and professors. Moreover, it's warming to see how hands-on the couple are, with Greene himself moderating many of the events.

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This year's program includes favorite staples such as the storytelling event co-hosted by The Moth, for which scientists and innovators will take the stage at The Players Club and share their personal stories of surprises and failures. WSF's "Scientific Kitchen" series expands since its debut last year, roping in Momofuku Milk Bar, Mast Brothers, The Wythe Hotel and more to learn about ancient ales, the physics behind chocolate mastery, and the scientific recipe to delicious, handmade butter. There's even a staged reading of "Dear Albert," a play by Alan Alda based on the letters and personal writings of Albert Einstein, that will feature Cynthia Nixon and Paul Rudd. An outdoor science street fair will be taking over Washington Square Park on Sunday 1 June, where NASA scientists will teach audience members about microgravity and full-scale space simulators are open for rides.

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Among the talks, Greene is especially looking forward to one in particular. "We have a great program on the Big Bang: in March, observations made by a telescope in the South Pole may have seen imprints of quantum physics from the Big Bang itself. It stirred up a lot of excitement and also a lot of controversy in the field," he shares with CH. "And we have all the main players coming to have a nice, civil debate discussion about where we are in understanding the origin of the universe."

The panel features Stanford University professor Andrei Linde (the surprised professor in the touching video that went viral) and Alan Guth and Paul Steinhardt (the other two originators of the inflationary theory) along with John Kovac (who led the team that made the observations at the South Pole) and Amber Miller (another observational astronomer who does similar work as Kovac). "And I'll be moderating that and trying to keep everyone healthy and alive by the end," Greene chuckles.

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"There are science events that happen at various venues and institutions but there's none that I know of that brings together—across the board—the leading scientific figures who are basically talking directly to the public without some intermediary translation going on," says Greene. "The festival works with the participants to have the program unfold in a way that's accessible to the non-expert. But you have a rare opportunity at the festival to commune, to rub shoulders with, to hear directly from those scientists who are pushing the envelope in some of these fields." Accessibility and relevance are the unspoken themes running throughout the World Science Festival, and Professor Greene gives his personal promise that it's going to be a gratifying and compelling experience for the audience.

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While some of the talks are already sold out, there are plenty of events—both free and ticketed—to check out. For those who aren't in the NYC area, livestreams will be available for some of the talks. Visit the website to browse the full list of programming; World Science Festival 2014 takes place from 28 May to 1 June.

Images courtesy of World Science Festival

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