Festival brings high-flying science down to earth

The Atlanta Science Festival, an 11-day extravagance of scientific activities, ignites with the intensity of a Bunsen burner. The fest powers itself with STEAM —an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — offering more than 100 events at 65 spots around town.

You could call it a chemical reaction thanks to a partnership between Emory University, Georgia Tech and the Metro Atlanta Chamber. Now in its fourth year, the festival continues bending minds with its creative approach. Drones cut across the sky, bird enthusiasts comb through forests, star lovers gaze into telescopes, and beer drinkers learn the science of suds. And that’s just a smidgen of a sample.

We put the Atlanta Science Festival under the microscope, and came up with our own hypothesis of highlights.

Launch Event

The star of this kickoff celebration knows the meaning of “launch” firsthand. American astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, who spent more than 50 days among the stars, talks about shooting into space and the NASA experiment he undertook with his brother and fellow astronaut, Scott Kelly. Kelly’s talk begins at 7 p.m., but guests can arrive early to make and launch rockets on the front lawn. Stay afterward as Kelly signs copies of his children’s book series, “Mousetronaut” and “Astrotwins.”

5:30 p.m. March 14. $8-$12 plus fees online in advance; $15 at the door. Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church, 1660 North Decatur Road N.E., Atlanta. 800-838-3006, asf2017launch.brownpapertickets.com.

Nerdy Derby

The Pinewood Derby concept, a race featuring tiny handmade cars, gets souped up with science and imagination. Instead of strictly wood, racers can whip up vehicles out of anything they desire, from Lego bricks to a wad of Play-Doh to a hunk of cheese. Scientific gearheads can make their rides at home or create them onsite with help from volunteers from Georgia Tech and Decatur Makers. Then it’s time to hit more than 30 feet of track. Yet you don’t have to be fast or furious to take home a win. Categories get creative with funniest epic fail, cutest and more.

10 a.m.-3 p.m. March 18. Free. Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy, 225 Griffin St. N.W. Atlanta. atlantasciencefestival.org/events/event/134140.

Rock ‘n’ Walk

Most Atlantans have seen and experienced Stone Mountain, that mammoth hunk of granite where laser shows and other family-friendly attractions take place. Folks from Georgia State University’s geosciences department take a rock-hard look at Stone Mountain by hosting guided mountain hikes. Throughout the day, groups will be departing from Confederate Hall Historical & Environmental Education Center. Geologists gather in the hall’s visitor center and dish on the history of the mountain, which they say dates back millions of years.

10 a.m.-3 p.m. March 18. Free with parking fee. $15 per vehicle; $40 annual parking pass. Stone Mountain Park, 1000 Robert E. Lee Blvd., Stone Mountain. atlantasciencefestival.org/events/event/134515.

Zombie Outbreak Game

Zombies have bitten pop culture with no sign of releasing their teeth anytime soon. The Atlanta Science Festival joins the zombie plague by putting some brains behind it. With help from a cast of actors and the minds behind Out of Hand Theater, a mock zombie outbreak overtakes Emory University’s campus. It’s up to participants to use scientific skills to quash the flesh eaters. Players ages 12 and older join forces in teams and investigate the zombie scare by doing lab work, exploring vaccines, interviewing faux patients and more.

2-4 p.m. March 19. $10; $5 students; free for students at Title 1 schools. Tickets available at the door. Additional fee if ordered online. Emory University, 201 Dowman Drive, Atlanta. 800-838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/2730466.

Exploration Expo

The Atlanta Science Festival wraps with a bang bigger than an explosive chemistry experiment. It all takes place at Centennial Olympic Park where organizers promise hands-on interaction with more than 100 exhibits, experiments, demonstrations and performances. At noon, don’t be surprised to see thousands of pink ping pong balls soaring into the air at the Olympic Rings Fountain. The fest folks divide the expo into six specific zones. The Discover Zone plays host to 3D printing, microscopes, robots and bees. You can make your own blood jar and check out the chemistry behind carbon dioxide bubble bombs in the Invent Zone. The Curious Kids Zone allows even the tiniest budding scientists ages 3 and older to exercise their craniums. Live entertainment includes Zoo Atlanta animal encounters and a chemistry show organized by Emory University.

11 a.m.-4 p.m. March 25. Free. Centennial Olympic Park, 265 Park Ave. W. N.W. Atlanta. atlantasciencefestival.org/expo.

Atlanta Science Festival. March 14-25. Various locations in metro Atlanta. 770-322-4992, atlantasciencefestival.org.