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Courtesy Science Chicago

The Meyer Tools tour, "We Build Cool Stuff," kicked off with a presentation by self-described “mad scientist” Mr. Freeze (Jerry Zimmerman) from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), who manipulated everyday items with liquid nitrogen.

Science Chicago: Bringing fun to the periodic table

by Melissa Suran
Feb 12, 2009


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Science ChicagoThe American Association for the Advancement of Science


This weekend at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 E. Wacker, you can check out Family Science Days. A collaborative effort between Science Chicago and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Family Science Days this Saturday and Sunday will feature exhibits and talks from a variety of speakers. Guests will include University of Chicago dinosaur hunter Paul Sereno and Josh Zepps from the Science Channel series “Brink.”

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When most people think of science, the first image that comes to mind is probably of a guy wearing goggles and a long white lab coat. Or maybe it’s a high school chemistry teacher giving back a test on isotopes with a less than perfect grade.

Either way, there’s much more to science than lab technicians and high school chemistry, and Science Chicago, a year long celebration of the sciences, makes it its mission to share it to the world. Or at least the Windy City.

Since it began in September, Science Chicago and its partners have produced over 1,000 science-related events in Chicago. It’s estimated that by the end of the 12-month project, over 2,000 events will have occurred.

“We have over 140 partners in the Chicago region who are committed to developing programs around what their mission is and how it connects with science,” said Cheryl Hughes, the executive director of Science Chicago.

Throughout the year, Science Chicago will feature events at some of the more prominent and prestigious institutions in the area, ranging from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Museum. Many museums, including the Museum of Science and Industry and the Field Museum, will also open their doors to special events.

“We are working with local industries and corporations to open up behind the scenes tours for the public to see the economic impact of the sciences,” Hughes said.

Kurt Riesselmann, who helps organize Science Chicago events at Fermi Lab, said he is impressed with the volume of positive feedback the program has received.

“A lot of people don’t realize how many research institutions and scientific experiences there are here in Chicago,” Riesselmann said. “Putting together this plan to highlight all this and make it accessible to families and their kids is a wonderful thing.”

One of Science Chicago’s main events is a monthly session called Science Saturdays. For 10 out of the 12 months, about six to 10 institutions hold special events, including behind the scenes tours with lectures and hands-on experiments.

“They are very small and intimate groups of folks, generally less than 30 people on behind the scenes tours and they are $7 per person,” Hughes said. “However, we give away about 25 percent of the tickets to community groups so that families in underserved populations can attend the tours.”

Although some adults may sneer at hands-on experiments, labeling it as “kid stuff,” Science Chicago provides an array of learning experiences suitable for all ages.

“The topics being discussed are not entry-level topics,” Hughes said. “Science Saturdays is meant to [rouse] conversation within the research facility or with a scientist.”

On Feb. 21, the University of Illinois at Chicago will host two Science Saturday events, both featuring advanced subject matter.

The first will feature an interdisciplinary collaboration between mechanical engineering and orthopedics. Scientists from both fields will hold a special demonstration together where they will talk about replacing joints – and might even replace one onsite.

“They will probably have a cadaver and will actually show what they do, what’s they’re opening up, what they are looking for,” said Eileen Tanner, the Special Assistant for Campus Relations at UIC. “This is the real deal – this is real science.”

The second event will feature new virtual reality techniques that will one day take electronic imaging to new level.

“[Researchers] will show how these technologies are being used in new ways for the purpose of teleconferences where people are widely separated,” Tanner said.

Although Science Chicago partners including UIC and Fermi sponsor a handful of events, they don’t seem worried about running out of ways to captivate audience members.

“At Fermi Lab, we have more than 700 scientists working at the lab and they work on many different experiments, so there’s always something new to talk about,” Riesselman said. “It’s just a question of how many hours there are in the day.”