‘Science is cool’: Getting interactive with the Atlanta Science Festival

If it’s slimy, scaly, swims or crawls, Lucy Davis is in.

Perched inches from a veritable salamander petting zoo over the weekend, Davis, 8, found herself in heaven as she proceeded to touch each and every critter on display. “They were wet and soft, just like frogs,” Lucy said, beaming.

“Not Just Newts,” on March 9 at the Amphibian Foundation on Roswell Road, was one of several events kicking off the two-week long Atlanta Science Festival — the sixth annual celebration of science, technology, engineering and math. The fest features more than 100 hands-on activities, facility tours, presentations and performances at a variety of locations throughout metro Atlanta. The festival culminates March 23 with an Exploration Expo at Piedmont Park.

Lucy’s mom, Jamie, said Saturday’s event was “practically made for Lucy … she freaked out when she found out we were coming to this. She couldn’t believe it.”

Lucy and fellow amphibian enthusiasts lined up for a chance at putting their fingers on the squishy critters, then headed toward the Amphibian Foundation’s other exhibits for a first-hand encounter with lizards, fish, turtles and, much to young Lucy’s unbridled excitement, frogs.

She was in good company. The like-minded 7-year-old Bradley Lamar, whose collection of critters at home is enough to make mom Alicia Simpson shake her head, was also in attendance.

It was the pair’s second science festival event of the day, after spending the morning at the festival’s kick-off, the “Wow in the World” Pop Up Party, a live performance with games and skits based on the popular NPR science-themed podcast.

“I think this whole thing is amazing, especially seeing children of all ages being so excited about science,” Simpson said.

The Baer Family of Dunwoody – also among the hundreds at the “Wow in the World” Pop Up Party – are fans of the popular podcast too, finding it a sacred listening ritual during car rides with the whole clan: Reid, 8, Maddie, 6, Jonah, 8, and mom and dad, Elliott and Nicole.

“Are we going to be in the newspaper?” Reid asked. “Why are you recording our voices?”

Reid, then – having grasped and mastered the mechanics of being interviewed – opened up about his love for the podcast. “It’s cool, and it’s interesting, and if it didn’t exist I wouldn’t have known things that I know now.”

Jonah chimed in: “Yes, and it’s interesting and fun and amazing.”

Hi sister Maddie nodded. “Yeah, it’s cool and science is cool.”

Their dad Elliott couldn’t agree more.

“Seeing this many people at something like this gives you hope,” he said. “It gives you hope for the future that these kids are so engaged and creative.”

Jordan Rose, co-founder and co-executive director of the Atlanta Science Festival, said Saturday’s kickoff was intended to have a family focus — bringing interested families like the Baers out who enjoy the podcast.

Rose said it was a thrill seeing crowds Saturday “in lines going down the street … The community is really excited about science, and they’re thirsty for opportunities like this to get engaged and to meet science professionals and have fun and learn at the same time.”

The science festival continues through March 23, concluding with the Exploration Expo – Atlanta’s biggest science event – from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 23 at Piedmont Park.

Last year’s expo brought out more than 25,000 people, and the two-week long event had a total attendance of 53,000.

The expo features many opportunities for attendees, including petting a python, squeezing into a mock MRI scanner, looking up your own nasal passages or even touching a human brain.

IF YOU GO

Atlanta Science Festival

Through March 23. Most events are free, some require registration and a few are ticketed events with entry fees. Various locations, including venues at Georgia Tech, Georgia State University and Emory University.

For more information and a list of all upcoming events, 770-322-4992 or visit atlantasciencefestival.org.