Join us for the Philadelphia Science Festival

In just a few weeks, the City of Brotherly Love will welcome the third annual Philadelphia Science Festival — a 10-day-long, citywide celebration of science that features lectures, debates, hands-on activities, special exhibits, and a host of other science-related programming coming to a museum, bar, or random space near you.

We here at The Public’s Health will be participating in two events this year. On Friday, April 19 at 6 p.m. we will be hosting a discussion called Blogging and Beer: Public Health in Philadelphia. Our editor at the Inquirer, Don Sapatkin, will be joining us, as will some of our regular contributors. We expect to have a lively conversation at  Rembrandt’s Restaurant in Fairmount. If you want to participate and enjoy good food and drink, please come! There is no cover charge.

On Thursday, April 25 at 7 p.m. I will also be participating in a wacky evening that is appropriately titled Sounds Made  Up: Tales  from the History of Science.   It brings historians and comedians together at The Chemical Heritage Foundation at the edge of Old City to dramatize, in the silliest way possible,  absurdities from the histories of science, medicine and public health. Last year’s rather risque event —  the video above is from the year before — saw discussions of a medieval women birthing a cat, zombies, the history of the banana, and a discussion of Alfred Kinsey’s toothbrush.

This year is sure to bring even more bizarre history to light.

Four local historians — Elly Truitt from Bryn Mawr College, Darin Hayton from Haverford College, and Rebecca Onion from the Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science, and me —will joined by comedians from the Philly Improv Theater to make you laugh. Tickets are $5 when reserved in advance (click on tickets), $7 at the door.

Please check out the Science Festival Calendar for a complete listing of goings on.

I sat down earlier this week with festival director Gerri Trooskin and production manager Josette Hammerstone  to discuss putting together such an incredibly diverse and interesting event.


Michael  Yudell: How many people are involved in the planning of the festival?

Gerri Trooskin: The Science Festival is truly a team effort. We have three fulltime staff and a part-time coordinator (from February to May), but it would be impossible to create all of the different programs without the many organizations involved in the event. A steering committee of 25 people from organizations of various size and mission are actively involved in festival event planning. The festival also involves people from every department within The Franklin Institute. The TFI marketing, finance, museum programs, public relations, and design departments work on the event throughout the year to ensure that programs are not only fun and educational, but are marketed and promoted as well as possible.

MY: How many people do you expect to attend this year?

Josette Hammerstone: Well, we hope to have a similar number of attendees at the Science Carnival on the Parkway as we did in 2012, which 25,000 people.  In addition, Science Day at the Ballpark generates an audience of roughly 40,000.  Beyond those events, we hope to engage an additional 35,000 folks from around the region.

MY: How many events are there this year?

JH: There will be 110 events during the festival, broken down into the following categories.

MY: What are some of your favorite events at the festival?

GT: It’s really hard to pick a favorite. There are so many great events on the calendar this year — each one is designed to illustrate how engaging and accessible science really is. We have tried do offer something for everyone this year!

JH: We’re incredibly excited about our new Discovery Day model —“mini-carnivals” based on topic and location are taking place over the course of the second weekend of the festival. There are tons of great adult events this year that guarantee to be fun and interactive! We have a number of great public health events this year too — from How Medicine Works to The Morgue the Merrier and Murder at the Mutter. After people leave your Blogging and Beer program, they’ll be ready to tackle these events with a new lens.

MY: What makes for a great event?

GT: The biggest factor is advance preparation and lots of it. The festival covers a myriad of topics geared for a general audience so there is a need to take the time and bridge the gap between scientists, who often do incredible research and have a wealth of technical knowledge, but are less comfortable communicating with an audience that most likely did not go much further than high school science. Making sure that the dialogue is enriching for both sides takes a few planning sessions.

MY: What stresses you out most during the festival?

JH: We have over 200 partnering institutions that each bring something wonderful to the table. It’s incredibly important to us that they feel invested, that they have a positive experience, and that each of their individual needs are met — if each group enjoys their respective involvement, they are more likely to participate year after year, making the program sustainable in the long-run. Making sure that everyone wants to return for 2014 can be a little daunting, but still lots of fun.

MY: How do you recruit events, and if there are Philadelphians interested in putting together an event for next year, who should they reach out to?

GT: We have a couple of different levels of involvement. We actually spent a great deal of time putting together a partner packet that lays out in great detail our programming and ways to partner. What is most important to us is that all of our events are collaborative in some way — each event must involve more than one organizing entity and the program must be new and innovative in some way and organizations cannot simply list events that take place on a regular basis. Anyone interested in participating can check out our website, or email

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