Archive for the ‘festival’ Category

On Stage: QED


On July 24, the first act to take the stage at the new Central Square Theater will be a science play.

“QED,” which stands for quantum electrodynamics, is a conversation with the late physicist Richard Feynman, best known for his work explaining the state of things at the super small scale.

Cambridge Science Festival participants were able to catch a sneak peek of the play at the Broad Institute, and judging from the audience’s reaction to the Saturday, May 3, performance, it was well received.

The play is set in Richard Feynman’s office at Caltech in 1986, about a year before he died of cancer. It is an imaginary day, but one that captures Feynman more as a man rather than a scientist. This is not a two-hour lecture on quantum physics. This is a series of anecdotes – about an obsession to see the country of Tuva, the pain of losing a wife, the excitement of building the atomic bomb, and what science does and does not know.

“Everything is interesting if you look deeply enough,” says the character Feynman. Part of what transcends QED from just a “science play” is its writing. The weaving of narratives, both funny and serious, and the conversational dialogue makes you see how human an endeavor like science is. When you leave the theater, you realize what made Feynman such a great scientist was his curiosity and playful personality.

Playing Feynman in the Underground Railway Theater production come July will be Keith Jochim. “This guy’s like channeling him,” said David Kaiser, an Associate Professor in Science, Technology and Society at MIT and author of a book on Feynman after the May 3 performance. A professional theater actor for 35 years, Jochim knows how to demand the audience’s attention and put just the right amount of emotion and dispassion into the performance. Part of his inspiration, he said, was coming from a family of scientists. “I’ve always been around people who have a curiosity of certain things,” said Jochim.

Because the play was focused on the human side of science, information about quantum physics was kept to a minimum. There were metaphors and graphics to help the audience, but to have gone too heavy into Feynman as a scientist wouldn’t have been as interesting. We do get a taste of Professor Feyman, however, in his interactions interacts throughout the play with imaginary student Miriam Field, played by Danielle Kellerman, a graduate of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. While a nice job, Kellerman’s performance was a little too sexy at times, and it seemed like her character was trying to seduce Feynman more than inspire him.

As a celebration of science, “QED,” hits the spot. And it’s great to know a place like the Undground Railway Theater exists in Cambridge, that puts on science plays. On August 11 through 15 they will also show “Looking at The Life of Galileo: A History Play for Our Times,” also at the Central Square Theater. They are the troupe to go for interesting science theater.

See what Nature Network News Editor Corie Lok had to say about “QED” on her blog.

Posted by Joseph, under arts, festival  |  Date: May 10, 2008
No Comments »

Cambridge Science Festival Day 5: Sound Science


What do plastic tubes, strings and tin cans have in common? According to Chris and Meredith Thompson, they can all be musical instruments! At the 2008 Cambridge Science Festival, the Thompson twins show an audience of kids how fun the science of sound can be. Eva Zadeh has the story:

Posted by Joseph, under festival, video  |  Date: May 1, 2008

Cambridge Science Festival Day 4: On Screen


Photograph of the Yamato. Credit: The National Archives

Tonight’s science-programming on WGBH, Boston’s public broadcasting station, reminded me of that classic conversation generator: If you could have dinner with anyone alive or dead, who would you choose?

Your first choice is John Kane, a former schoolteacher who campaigns for tissue engineering research. Kane became an advocate after skin, grown from infant foreskins, treated a diabetic ulcer on his left leg. Since the treatment was prepared by Canton-based company Organogenesis, the local news show, Greater Boston, featured Kane’s story to emphasis the importance of tax cuts for life science companies in Massachusetts.

Your second choice is Mercedes Doretti, a leading authority in the use of forensic anthropology for the investigation of human rights violations. She got her start 20 years ago, investigating mass graves in Argentina after democracy was restored to the country. When asked about her choice of career, Doretti told One-On-One host, Maria Hinojosa, “I discovered, to my surprise, that I was able to do it, and that was o.k. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel,” she said. “Your defense mechanisms must kick in and you are able to work.”

Your third and final choice is Naoyoshi Ishida, one of 269 survivors out of a crew of 3,000 aboard the Japanese battleship Yamato, which was sunk by American warplanes in April 1945. As bombs fell and his comrades drowned, Naoyoshi jumped into the water and swam, thinking all the while about his newborn son. Eventually rescued by a Japanese boat, he and the other survivors were hidden for a month before returning to their families. This was done to hide the news of losing the Yamato, the largest battleship ever built, from the Japanese people.

NOVA: Sinking the Supership, investigates why the Japanese chose to deploy the Yamato if they knew a battleship could not compete with air attacks. According to interviews with Naoyoshi and others, the men in the Yamato were told to celebrate and tie up any lose ends in the days before the mission. It is hypothesized that the ship was heading towards the American fleet near Okinawa, a major Japanese stronghold, to complete a grand kamikaze or suicide mission.

The programs mentioned in this post were aired as part of the week-long Cambridge Science Festival. For more ideas for people to have dinner with, as well as science-related shows, visit the WGBH Website.

Posted by Joseph, under festival  |  Date: April 29, 2008
No Comments »

Cambridge Science Festival Day 3: Nobel Lunch


Your genes are mostly nonsense, says molecular biologist Philip Sharp.

“When I look at your DNA, only 2% codes for genes, 98% of your DNA is considered almost junk,” Sharp told a crowd lunching at the MIT Museum.

Human genetics was the topic of the hour at the first “Lunch with a Laureate,” an informal sit down, (or in Sharp’s case – stand up), with a Nobel Prize winner. Sharp shared the Prize for medicine in 1993 for discovering the genome is more complex than previously thought.

“There are many cases of the same gene making different functions in different tissues,” explained Sharp.

Despite his status, Sharp made a good effort to make the research he does understandable for a general public.

“The fruit fly that lands on your banana has the same number of genes as you. The worm that crawls around in the dirt has more,” he said in a particularly colorful example.

Although, when it came down to where research genetics is headed, Sharp began to slip into scientific jargon. The work being done with RNA interference and nanotechnology is fascinating stuff, but it is a little difficult to explain what it is to an unfamiliar audience with a 20-minute talk, especially without visuals.

One anecdote that did catch the crowd’s interest is the construction of the Koch Institute of Integrated Cancer Research at MIT. Integrated because within the building’s walls will work 12 engineers and 12 biologists. Although they will work on separate floors, they will be forced washroom and dining hall interactions, Sharp joked. The possibility of bringing different fields together, allows for the possibility of new “mental models,” as one audience member put it.

Another great question, and one relevant to the Boston area, since so many research institutions are located withing 10 miles from one another, is how competition and collaboration affect science. Sharp, who sees both sides as an MIT Professor and co-founder of companies like Biogen and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, responded, “A balance is important to move things along.”

“Lunch with a Laureate” will continue all this week as part of the Cambridge Science Festival. Come by the MIT Museum between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m. Tuesday to meet Wolfgang Ketterle, Physics, 200. Wednesday – Dudley Herschbach, Chemistry, 1986. Thursday – Jerome I. Friedman, Physics. 1990. And Friday – Susumu Tonegawa, Medicine, 1987

Don’t forget to bring a sandwich.

Posted by Joseph, under festival  |  Date: April 28, 2008
1 Comment »

Cambridge Science Festival Day 2: Rock Science


Ivan Sifrim and Trevor Doherty Rock

Above: School of Groove Guitarist Ivan Sifrim and Drummer Trevor Doherty Demonstrate the Science of Rock. Below: Christopher Vuk

Not many science events begin with a guitar and drum overture, but “The Science of Rock” by the School of Groove, isn’t your ordinary lecture.

Live musical performances, on-stage demonstrations and audience participation are major (not minor) elements of the show, which premiered this afternoon at The Museum of Science.

For instance, to teach how sound waves travel, bassist and physics PhD candidate Dan Bissex extends a long cord across the stage. Holding one end, as drummer Trevor Doherty holds the other, they demonstrate the difference between a loud and soft sound. The large wave produced by a loud sound causes Doherty, in a Tony-worthy performance, to fall to the ground in pain. The smaller wave generated by a soft sound, produces a gentle “ping.”

Christopher Vuk, the event’s host and Director of the School of Groove, a performance-based music school located in Cambridge, spent three months preparing a show that would teach the physics of music in an engaging way. He auditioned over 30 people, looking for performers who could play as well as connect with audiences.

As a large portion of the audience are elementary-school aged, the musicians are careful to use simple but effective language to explain the science. Instead of going too deep into wavelengths and frequency, they say sound is vibrating air and leave it at that. The performers do the same with musical terminology. During the segment on making music, the take-away message is major chords have a brighter tone as opposed to the sadder minor chords.

Another feature of the show is the use of multimedia, in particular, a computer program that visualizes sound waves produced by the band and audience. “Music is undeniably part art and part science. Let me teach you about this complex relationship,” said guitarist and vocalist Ivan Sifrim, during an explanation of intervals.

“The Science of Rock” band will play four more times next weekend (May 3rd and May 4th at 1 & 3 p.m) as part of the The Cambridge Science Festival. Check them out and bing the kids.

Posted by Joseph, under festival  |  Date:
No Comments »

Cambridge Science Festival 2008 Commences


Welcome to the Cambridge Science Festival

What better way to kick off The 2nd annual Cambridge Science Festival than a Science Carnival at Cambridge City Hall.MIT Marching Band

Instead of riding ferris wheels or downing cotton candy, families, students and volunteers had the opportunity to pet chickens, learn about Madagascar hissing cockroaches and discuss how to be eco-friendly. Meanwhile, the MIT Marching Band provided musical entertainment as attendees took pictures by a giant inflatable duck sponsored by Think Blue Massachusetts, a water conservation effort.

Hundreds of people were present by the time MIT President Susan Hockfield gave the opening address. “Last year’s Festival was an experiment,” she said, “And no surprise, it worked.” This year’s festival is bigger thanks to a collaboration of Boston area science organizations, including MIT, Harvard, the Museum of Science and WGBH.

Over 200 science-related events for kids, teens and adults will take place in the next 9 days. It began this afternoon with a countdown from 10, (so even the kids could could participate), led by Hockfield. When zero was reached, streamers of green, blue and silver fell from the sky.

For the rest of the afternoon, science-related demonstrations took place throughout the Cambridge City Hall building. On the third floor, kids learned how a tornado works with water and soda bottles. Downstairs a chemist from a local biotech company struggled to explain what she did using molecular modeling. Nearby, a Draper Laboratory representative told children to be gentle with the robot prototype.

Science Metropolis will provide day-to-day coverage of this exciting Festival, because as Hockfield said, it is just an example of how Cambridge (just like Boston) truly is a center of science, engineering and innovation.

Photos by Kristina Grifantini.

Posted by Joseph, under festival  |  Date: April 26, 2008
No Comments »