Whether they are walking on the moon, chasing lava, racing toward tornadoes, tracking comets, battling superbugs, landing robots or discovering dinosaurs, world-class scientists have participated in the Flagstaff Festival of Science since it began a quarter of a century ago.
A new book, Flagstaff Festival of Science: The First 25 Years, captures the essence of the nation’s longest running, free science festival, traces the scientific roots of the “Skylight City” and shares stories and quotes from its famous participating scientists. The book will be released during a free talk, “Flagstaff’s Science Legacy” by authors Kevin Schindler and Bonnie Stevens at 7 p.m., Saturday, July 18, at Riordan Mansion State Historic Park.
“Thanks to unparalleled deposits of plants and stones and water and bones, to stunningly clear skies that unveil worlds beyond our own, Flagstaff has become a mecca for learning about the universe around us. This program will look at some of the exciting discoveries and dedicated scientists who built this legacy,” said Schindler.
Northern Arizona University President Emeritus Eugene Hughes, Ph.D., is credited with first bringing key scientists and local media representatives together to explore the possibilities of a Flagstaff science festival. In the book’s foreword he writes, “You will see, as you read this brief history of the Flagstaff Festival of Science, that their work, and that of successive groups, has led to the development of one of the finest, if not the finest, festivals in the nation.”
Throughout the book, scientists share their love for adventure and gripping anticipation of what will happen next in their world of discovery. “Science is an adventure of the mind,” says retired U.S. Geological Survey research geologist and founding festival board member Ivo Lucchitta, Ph.D.
Storm chaser Warren Faidley says, “I like it when I don’t know what I’m going to see. It’s like opening a present. Odds are you are not going to see something over the top…but you might. It’s about trying to be in the right place at the right time and being as prepared as you can be.”
Space Shuttle Astronaut John Grunsfeld, Ph.D., says, “It’s that curiosity that drives us all, and has driven us since we’ve been human.”
The book also introduces readers to individuals who grew up with the festival and are now enjoying science endeavors professionally and/or personally as adults. For 33-year-old Samantha Christensen, who began attending the festival when she was eight, meeting the scientists and being in their workspace made science real. “I could envision myself as a scientist,” she says.
Influenced by her festival experiences, Christensen earned a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics at the University of Arizona, where she also took astronomy courses. Today, she manages the public education program at Lowell Observatory, designs space camps for kids and serves on the festival board of directors.
For 25 years, the Flagstaff Festival of Science has invited youth, their families, visitors and lifelong learners into laboratories, observatories, museums and out to the field to participate alongside scientists.
This year, the Flagstaff Festival of Science will be Exploring New Horizons, Sept. 18-27. Leading the way will be planetary scientist Alan Stern, Ph.D., the man who heads up the pioneering New Horizons spacecraft mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.
“We’re on Pluto’s doorstep and we don’t know what we’re going to find,” says Stern, who is scheduled to deliver the Festival’s Shoemaker Keynote Presentation at 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 18 in Northern Arizona University’s Ardrey Auditorium.
“It will be fascinating to see the best images that have been captured of the dwarf planet, and hear what scientists are finding out from this amazing journey into the Kuiper Belt where hundreds of other icy worlds exist,” says Festival President and meteorologist Brian A. Klimowski, Ph.D. “It is only fitting that some of the latest images and new information about Pluto will be coming back home to the town where Pluto was discovered.”
Flagstaff Festival of Science: The First 25 Years can be found at the Flagstaff Public Library and on the festival’s website at scifest.org. It is also available as a gift to festival donors at the $100 level and above.
“Inspiration for the book came from our rich community of scientists,” said Schindler. “NPR ScienceFriday Host Ira Flato drove it home when he said, “’You can’t get a cup of coffee in Flagstaff without bumping into a scientist.’”
Stevens says she has been in awe of the many local and visiting scientists who have shared their enthusiasm and knowledge with Flagstaff. “It seemed important to document their inspirational stories and messages. My favorite quote comes from Apollo Astronaut Alan Bean when asked what went through his head as he walked in the stillness of the moonscape. He said, ‘“On the
moon, everything is gray. And then you realize, we live in the Garden of Eden.”
“I find the book just wonderful in subject, organization, writing, illustrations and design,” said Lucchitta. “The authors and the designer [Andi Kleinman] should be proud of what they have achieved, and so should Flagstaff.”
The talk, “Flagstaff’s Science Legacy,” hosted by Riordan Mansion State Historic Park, which is operated through a cooperative agreement with the Arizona Historical Society and the Flagstaff Festival of Science, is free. Seating is limited and provided on a first-come, first-served basis. The book will be available to those who attend.
The book, “Flagstaff Festival of Science: The First 25 Years,” was made possible through a science education grant from W. L. Gore & Associates. “We want people to see that science is much more than nerds and pocket protectors. It’s exciting and fun and you don’t even need to be a scientist to work in science,” said 2014 Festival President Steven Smith with W. L. Gore & Associates. QCBN
For more information, visit www.scifest.org.