Eating crickets, knitting neurons and cuddling a dinosaur can mean only one thing: the launch of the Australian Museum Science Festival.
I walked into the main atrium at the Museum to see Winny the Muttaburrasaurus dinosaur puppet mingling with scientists and students, and trays of fried crickets on offer next to muesli sweetened with fragrant honey from bees at Sydney’s Royal Botanical Gardens.
Colourful woolly neurons created by Neural Knitworks, a collaborative art project promoting mind and brain health, were sprawled across a table. Sleek Geeks Dr Karl Kruszelnicki and Adam Spencer were taking selfies with Joanna the Goanna. I was just as excited as the schoolkids.
Even the speeches were inspiring, with Kim McKay, the Museum’s Director and CEO, introducing some Australian leaders in science who had also come here for the launch of National Science Week. Catherine Livingstone, who once headed up CSIRO and now leads the Museum's Board of Trustees and the Business Council of Australia, said that scientific literacy in Australia has fallen in recent years, but she talked up the benefits to Australia of promoting it in young people.
Then, with a live python wrapped around her shoulders, Professor Mary O’Kane, the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, encouraged students to celebrate their sense of wonder and consider a rewarding career in science.
Dr Karl and Adam Spencer brought their special brand of energy to the proceedings, with Adam particularly fired up over the recent award of a Fields Medal for mathematics to Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian woman studying at Stanford University. She’d been inspired to study maths when she heard the story of Carl Gauss and his early discoveries of arithmetic sequences, he said. And that seems to be the festival’s take-home message: inspire students to engage with science and they'll go far.
This week it’s the turn of primary school students to explore the hands-on displays – making their hair stand on end using static electricity, viewing their fingerprint minutiae under a microscope, and sneakily running their hands along the stuffed echidnas from back to front. Seeing the children’s eyes light up while playing with these exhibits highlighted their innate curiosity, which the festival aims to encourage and nurture.
I caught up with a very busy Science Festival organiser Catherine Beehag, who said the festival also allows students to interact with Australian Museum scientists and collections, showcasing everything from birds to bugs to geology. ‘The Museum’s Science Festival is unique because of the variety of workshops and shows’, she said.
‘We’ve got 3D printing workshops, forensic workshops, science shows using liquid nitrogen, and working laboratories set up for things like dissections.’
Then she had to run – with Community Day on Saturday (16 August) and thousands of high school students descending on the festival next week, she and her Sci Comm team are squeezing everything they can out of every minute to make the festival a success. Which so far, I have to say, it is.
So if you’re in the mood for some brain food this weekend, or even next week, I recommend you drop by the Museum and catch the buzz! The festival closes on 21 August.
Lisa Robinson, Communications Intern