looking at sun spots during the open house at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics during the annual Cambridge Science Festival

What to do during the April Break? Go To the Cambridge Science Festival!

If your kids have a vacation break in April, like the kids in the New England states (Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut), consider heading to Cambridge, Massachusetts next year to geek out during the annual Cambridge Science Festival.

As they say on their website,

the Cambridge Science Festival is a celebration showcasing fun and the leading edge in science, technology, engineering, art, and/or math in our region.  A multifaceted, multicultural event, the Cambridge Science Festival makes science accessible, interactive and fun, highlighting the impact of STEAM in all our lives.

Be mindful, though, that the science-related events start before the festival officially opens, and sometimes go on after it ends, so you may not be able to see everything if you come for just a week.

This year (2015), for instance, the Cambridge Science Festival included a series of events marking the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which started with a March 26 event “Cosmic Loops: Music Beneath the Stars” at the Museum of Science.

 

And the “Black (W)hole” interactive experience at the Central Square Theatre ran into May.

While you browse through the 2015 Program Guide, you’ll quickly see that it’s sometimes hard to choose with event to attend!

Here are just a few highlight from this year’s events:

Speaking of Einstein

Speaking of Einstein was the official Cambridge Science Festival kick-off event, held on the evening of Friday, April 17 at the First Parish Church in Cambridge, MA.

The panelists included:

Prof. Galison, by the way, is one of the instructors of a FREE on-line edX course “The Einstein Revolution.”

You might think that people have better things to do on Friday evening, than to go watch a group of academics discuss Einstein, but you are wrong. The place was packed.

Panelists of "Speaking of Einstein" talk from afar. We didn't arrive early enough to get good seats.
Panelists of “Speaking of Einstein” talk from afar. We didn’t arrive early enough to get good seats.

The first question posed by the moderator to the panelists was: When did you first hear of the theory of relativity?

Now, while most people would not find it strange that most scholars said they first learned about this breakthrough theory around the middle school, my son was a bit surprised. He first read about Einstein in second grade, when he picked up a copy of Albert Einstein and His Inflatable Universe in the amusing but educational “Dead Famous” series. (Yes, he’s a total nerd and I wouldn’t have him any other way.)

Other questions asked about Einstein’s life, his influence on today and future, and wondered about what he’d say if he were alive today.

Prof. Natarajan remarked that if Einstein were brought to 2015, he’d be surprised that we all rely on him so much, while Prof. Galison ventured Einstein would be surprised that we can observe so much about black holes nowadays.

I had to chuckle when during the Q&A session, in reply to “Do you believe in time travel?” Prof. Randall promptly and curtly but with a smile replied “No!”

Cambridge Explores the Universe

Cambridge Explores the Universe held at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics held on Sunday, April 19, was the only event held at the Center for the entire festival. During the week the Center is of course busy with teaching and research, but that Sunday they opened its doors to visitors.

And they were packed as well!

Lots of people, families with kids, and grown ups with no children in sight lined up to look at the sun through one of the many telescopes set up in the Center’s parking lot. From the looks of it, several people tried out several telescopes, like we did, since each had a different colored filter.

Looking for spots on the sun during the Cambridge Science Festival event at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Looking for spots on the sun during the Cambridge Science Festival event at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

At first it was hard to notice anything, but after I trained my eye, I actually did see bursting sun spots in a couple of times!

My son was surprised how frequently the telescopes had to be adjusted due to sun movement. You don’t really notice the sun move much, usually, do you? You would if you looked at it through the telescope – it would soon be beyond the lens range and you’d have to adjust your angle.

Among other things on display were a radio telescope:

Radio telescope on display during the Cambridge Science Festival event at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Radio telescope on display during the Cambridge Science Festival event at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

and a very simple, but interesting sunspotter:

Sunspotter on display during the Cambridge Science Festival event at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Sunspotter on display during the Cambridge Science Festival event at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

My son also stopped in front of several posters lining the halls of the Center:

one of the posters lining the halls of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
one of the posters lining the halls of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

 

Islands: Evolving in Isolation Exhibit

The end of the Cambridge Science Festival coincided with the last day Harvard Museum of Natural History visitors could see the emu chicks, which were incubated at the museum, and hatched just in time for the opening of the “Islands: Evolving in Isolation Exhibit.”

one of the emu chicks that hatched at the Harvard Museum of Natural History at the end of the Cambridge Science Festival
one of the emu chicks that hatched at the Harvard Museum of Natural History at the end of the Cambridge Science Festival

As the news of the emu eggs wiggling spread, the videos posted on HMNH Facebook page were seen by more and more viewers. Once the chicks hatched, they even made it on prime time TV on WCVB Channel 5!

“The Islands” exhibit examines the mysteries of island biodiversity and evolution, and displays examples from Australia, Galapagos, New Guinea, and many other places.

As one of the displays explained:

Biologists studying islands have long noted that smaller mammals, such as rodents, are more likely to exhibit something known as insular, or island, gigantism. Larger-bodied animals, like humans and elephants, trend in a different direction. They are smaller on island than on the continent, showing insular dwarfism.

my daughter reading the information about The Islands exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History
my daughter reading the information about The Islands exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

My kids liked the most the rare fossil cast of Homo floresiensis, a relative of modern humans:

Homo floresiensis, on display at The Islands exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History
Homo floresiensis, on display at The Islands exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

The display informed us:

Because of its diminutive stature, this miniature fossil human, Homo floresiensis, has been nicknamed “the Hobbit.” The specias was a close relative of modern humans that lived on Flores Island between 94,000 and 17,000 years ago and stood a mere 3.5 feet tall.

The kids were also fascinated by the moa skeleton:

My 6' tall son in front of the moa skeleton on display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History
My 6′ tall son in front of the moa skeleton on display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

According to the informational label:

The moa seen here – Dinornis novaezelandiae – is one of the largest of nine species known. It grew up to 12 feet tall and weighed over 500 lbs.

Next Year’s Cambridge Science Festival

I hope these three examples convinced you to plan for Cambridge Science Festival 2016! Since it always coincides with the April vacation, you can already mark it on your calendar – April 15 through 24, 2016!

Check for updates on Cambridge Science Festival website, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter! Their Flickr photostream is also worth taking a look at. Lots of great shots of kids fascinated by the science they see!

Last, but not least, read the Cambridge Science Festival blog!

I would like to thank the Cambridge Science Festival for providing me with two free tickets to Speaking of Einstein. Both my son and I truly enjoyed the discussion!

Where to Stay in Cambridge

Cambridge is right across the river from Boston, so when you visit, you can stay either directly in Cambridge, or you can find a place to stay right in Boston. There are plenty of choices!

Invitation to #WeekendWanderlust Link Up

#WeekendWanderlust, hosted by Chris & Heather from A Brit and a Southerner, Jessi & Tara from Outbound Adventurer, Ashley from A Southern Gypsy, Justin and Lauren from Justin Plus Lauren, and yours truly, is a collaborative effort to share travel blog posts, and to discuss all travel-related things.

The hosts organize each week a link up through which travel bloggers from around the world can promote their posts, in exchange for a promise to give some attention to other travel bloggers. (One of the rules for linking up is to comment on three linked up posts.)

If the link up is still open, feel free to add a link to one of your posts below, then comment on three linked up posts. And I welcome comments as well, of course!

#WeekendWanderlust link up logo
#WeekendWanderlust link up badge | to download, right click and “save as” then include it at the end of your post with a paragraph about the link up and links back to the hosts (feel free to use a modified version of the first two paragraphs above)

 


20 thoughts on “What to do during the April Break? Go To the Cambridge Science Festival!”

    1. Thank you for reading, Sarah! Yes, if your kid likes science, this is a very good use of a spring break, even if you don’t live in the area. You could still squeeze in some sightseeing in addition to the festival.

    1. Thank you for reading, Brenda! When you’re back from your round-the-world trip, I hope you WILL visit Massachusetts.

    1. Thank you for reading, Dana! I’m the same way – fun is fun, but we always try to do something educational as well. Plus in this case, educational was fun for them too! Mission accomplished!

    1. Thank you for reading, Lesley! If you like science, go for it. The program does include a whole bunch of activities geared toward adults, like lectures about hoops and beer-making. After all, alcohol is chemistry, and chemistry is science. Right?

    1. Thank you for reading, Kate! We haven’t been to Seattle yet, but I’m sure when we do, we will visit the science center. We always go to the science centers or museums, wherever we are, if there is one.

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