Flagstaff Festival of Science, September 17–26, spreads STEM passion

By Joanna Dodder Nellans

Flagstaff’s storied history of science dates back to 1894 with the establishment of Lowell Observatory, and that foundation spawned a plethora of like-minded institutions. So it’s no surprise that the Flagstaff Festival of Science began in 1990 to spread all this amazing knowledge throughout the region.

It’s the longest-running free public science festival in the world, with approximately 80 events taking place September 17–26.

The word “free” is key to the festival.

“Part of our mission is to make sure science is accessible to everyone,” explained Elizabeth Vogler, the festival coordinator who works with lots of volunteers.

The festival’s 58 partners and sponsors include the U.S. Geological Survey’s Flagstaff Science Campus, Arizona Science Center, U.S. Naval Observatory, Willow Bend Environmental Education Center, Tynkertopia STEAM Center, and high-tech companies attracted to the region such as TGen North. Flagstaff also is the world’s first International Dark Sky Place and country’s first STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Community. Clearly, these partners have much science to share.

“The Flagstaff Festival of Science began in 1990 when Flagstaff-area scientists came together with members of the news media to discuss how to share their world of discovery with the public,” the festival’s website explains.

Each annual festival features a new theme that guides its choice for its keynote speaker. This year’s “Stories in Stone” theme features Flagstaff’s own Jaime Awe, an archaeology professor at Northern Arizona University, as the speaker. He will share his passion for Mayan research with “When Stones Speak: Decoding the Messages Embedded in Ancient Maya Monuments” at 7 p.m. Friday, September 17.

Here’s a small sampling of the events:

  • Science in the Park: A fair of interactive activities at Wheeler Park to engage young learners in the joy of scientific discovery.
  • The State of the Climate: Panel discussion featuring updates on climate science and solutions to slow climate change.
  • En Plein Air: The festival’s first event for artists of all ages to draw or paint outdoors at Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve and at Buffalo Park, incorporating the Stories in Stone theme.
  • Monarch Butterfly Tagging: A hands-on workshop to tag monarchs with the Southwest Monarch Study to learn more about their migration flights to Mexico and California.
  • Wildlife and Sky Viewing at Rogers Lake: Experts will explain how local wildlife live and prosper there, then view the night sky with spotting scopes.
  • Mars Rover talk: Lowell Observatory discusses all the latest rover research.
  • Animal Tracks Workshop: Kids make their own animal tracks.
  • Sea of Tranquility Guided Hike: Hike in a human-made crater field, Flagstaff’s version of the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility, now listed as a National Historic Property to preserve the legacy of this Apollo astronaut training ground.

Learn more at www.scifest.org.