Science to take many forms, even molecular, at festival


The Atlanta Science Festival runs Saturday, March 22, through Saturday, March 29, with more than 100 events scattered over 50 locations, many of them free. For information, 770-322-4992; atlantasciencefestival.org/

Prepare to be blinded with science.

The first Atlanta Science Festival begins this week with more than 100 eye-boggling events occurring simultaneously over eight days throughout the city.

You will see the flash of lasers, the smoke of liquid nitrogen and a few things that will blow your mind.

Like the cyborg drummer.

Jason Barnes, 24, a drummer and a student at the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media, lost his right hand two years ago when he was almost electrocuted while working at an industrial cleaning job.

Georgia Tech professor Gil Weinberg built a robot arm that allows Barnes to play drums two-handed again. In fact, the battery-powered arm is gifted with its own brain, which listens to Barnes and improvises along with him.

“I’m better than I was before I lost my arm,” said Barnes, a McDonough resident.

Barnes and an ensemble will demonstrate the frontiers of robot/cyborg/human musical interaction at Kennesaw State University on Saturday, the first day of the festival.

The last day, March 29, will be devoted to an all-day braniac Bonnaroo at Centennial Olympic Park, with more than 100 booths, demonstrations and performances, including a Makers Village (more about that later), an introduction to killer plants and a tutorial on making your own scabs.

In between will be opportunities to encounter chemistry, geology, acoustics and many other disciplines in such events as “The Science of Beer,” staged at a West Midtown brewery, and a geek-friendly comedy show in Scottdale, “Journey to the Dork Side,” that dares ask the question “is there humor in mathematics?”

Here are just a few of the events expected to draw 30,000 visitors to more than 50 locations:

Group Intelligence

On Saturday, a group of about 300 participants will assemble in Piedmont Park and re-enact the behavior of molecules by following a simple set of instructions coming over their headphones.

It is part theater, part flash mob and a concrete lesson in the science of the origins of everything. “We are mimicking chemical self-assembly,” said Adam Fristoe, co-artistic director of the Out of Hand Theater, which has staged the Group Intelligence happenings in Atlanta, New Haven, Conn., and the Netherlands.

Participants must register ahead of time at www.outofhandtheater.com/ and download the mp3 track that will serve as the genome for the event. It's free.

Robotic musicianship

Saturday evening, human musicians will share the stage with automatons in a free concert at Kennesaw State. The centerpiece will be a performance by Barnes and his robotic arm. The concert is free.

Weinberg, the director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Music Technology, will demonstrate several of his metal musicians, which include Shimon, a marimba-playing creation that can both listen and compose. Stephen Colbert took the time to make fun of Weinberg’s creations, mentioning that they combined “two of the biggest threats to our nation: jazz and robots.”

Philosophical about the dig, Weinberg said, “If someone is making fun of you, at least it’s Stephen Colbert.”

Maker Village

Hobbyists who like to create objects — with a 3-D printer or an old-fashioned soldering gun — have banded together in the “Maker” movement. The trend is catnip for science geeks, who will turn out en masse for the final day of the Science Festival in a Maker Village, just one of the attractions at the all-day Exploration Expo in Centennial Olympic Park.

Lew Lefton, a math professor at Georgia Tech, said several Maker groups will be represented, including Castleberry Hill’s Mass Collective, a group that could bring an 8-foot Tesla Coil to the party. (It wants to make sure no one gets fried.) A visit to the village is free.

The Atlanta Science Festival’s $400,000 budget came principally from founding partners Emory University, Georgia Tech and the Metro Atlanta Chamber, with assistance from other corporate and academic sponsors.

Festival co-founder Meisa Salaita said, “We want this event to rebrand Atlanta as a city where science is happening, as a rich environment of educational and workforce opportunities.”