Candling fertilized eggs at last year’s Mississippi Science Fest showed the silhouette of the unhatched chicks inside. But it was the look on a little boy’s face, when he saw it, that showed Emily Summerlin all she needed to know about what the fest does for kids.
“He was probably about 6 or 7. When he saw that there was actually a living creature inside of that egg, and that there was a technique for them to check it — it’s a really simple form of science, but it made such an impressive impression on that little boy!” says Summerlin, marketing and events specialist at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum.
The Mississippi Science Fest on Saturday is a day-long celebration hosted by the LeFleur Museum District in Jackson, where four museums offer hands-on, interactive fun centered on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions with a specific focus on Mississippi. A single $10 ticket, shuttles, food trucks and more allow families to make a day of it – to play, discover and learn a lot at the Mississippi Children’s Museum, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum and the Ag Museum.
Saturday will mark the second year the event – started in 2016 by the Mississippi Children’s Museum – encompasses all four museums in the district. About 3,000 people attended the science fest in 2017.
“People were really excited to see the diversity of science industry that our state has,” says Nicole Smith, event planner at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. “I don’t think, when you think of Mississippi, you instantly think science, but it’s there and it’s meaningful” with NASA’s Stennis Space Center, timber and poultry industries, engineering, plastics, robotics and much more.
A special program at the science museum is Saturday’s live one-woman show “A Visit with Marie Curie,” with living history scholar, performer and playwright Susan Marie Frontczak. Geared to fifth-graders and up, the acclaimed program has limited space so it’s first come, first seated for the show and Q&A (with Frontczak still in character) that follows. Seating starts at 2:45 p.m. with the show starting at 3 p.m.
“Her performance is moving and it’s believable, and it really embodies one of the great minds of the 20th century,” says Smith, who saw the play and campaigned to bring it here. The program is sponsored by the American Chemical Society and their student chapters at Belhaven University, Mississippi College and Millsaps College.
“You feel like you’ve met Marie in her lab in the early 1900s. … To really hear her story and reflect upon it — it could change your perspective of what science is, and the dedication it requires,” Smith added.
The Marie Curie living history play connects with museum and Mississippi tradition, from biologist Cathy Shropshire’s popular portrayal of pioneering conservationist/museum founder Fannye Cook to the state’s active Chautauqua scene (the TED talks of the day) through the 1930s.
“It’s one of those experiences where the scholar and the storyteller are one and the same, so it’s the closest you’ll get to meeting the famous scientist and getting to hear the human stories behind her discoveries,” says Jen Myronuk, STEM on Stage co-founder and producer. Her filmed version of the play, “Humanity Needs Dreamers: A Visit with Marie Curie,” will be available as a digital speaking tour, hosted in classrooms and communities around the state next spring.
Straw rockets with NASA, Mississippi State University’s Entomology Center, Seige Robotics and more are among a host of other exhibitors at the science museum.
The Mississippi Children’s Museums has more than two dozen exhibitors on tap for the fest, each with interactive fun, spread throughout the museum. Among them is Waggoner Engineering with an augmented reality project on how erosion works. “They built it just for this,” Susan Branson, director of external affairs, says.
“Children will learn hands-on about soil and erosion and how water impacts the topographical surface.” Last year, kids got so involved, they didn’t want their turn to end, Branson says. McNeely Plastics, Raytheon, Entergy Nuclear, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and Mississippi Public Broadcasting will be among other exhibitors onsite.
Branson remembers the wonder on young faces as they took it all in at last year’s science fest and “As they left, they’re telling us, ‘This was the best day of my life!’ Children are so dramatic anyway,” she says, chuckling at the memory. Then, on a more serious note, “Children can see, ‘This is a possibility for me.’
“Children start forming their self-image around fourth grade, so to introduce all these science fields to them at 9 or 10 or younger, we really could be changing the course of the future of engineering and science fields in Mississippi,” Branson says. “What we’re trying to do is broaden their possibilities for the future.”
At the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, the Jackson Zoo’s Turtle Talk and a turtle race, Sanderson Farms and Friends of the Mississippi River Basin Model are scheduled. “Families are searching for a way to get their kids involved in STEM, and looking for activities that are not just fun, but are family-friendly and unique,” says Andrea Patterson, marketing director at the sports museum. “To me, that’s exactly what the Mississippi Science Fest provides.”
A special science fest scavenger hunt throughout the sports museum, pitting friends against friends and parents against kids as they all rush around to find answers, will return this year to Saturday’s event which is presented by C Spire.
Attractions at the Ag Museum include the Mississippi State University’s Mobile Environment and Energy Laboratory – the MEEL trailer – that’s a fully automated and interactive demonstration showcasing all current technology needed to operate a poultry house.
“They’ve come a long way from just the typical egg-laying hen houses. The amount of automation that goes into them, and the technology behind it is just so impressive,” Summerlin says. “A lot of people don’t think about where the chickens come from. … Poultry is the state’s top ag commodity, so it’s really important we educate our kids on where their food comes from and all of the important technologies that make sure that food is safe and gets to us in the best possible manner.”
MSU’s department of sustainable bioproducts and its Wood Magic Science Fair Mobile Unit, is another cool draw, highlighting reforestation, the making of plywood and more. It’s geared to elementary age, “but I’m 30, and I sat there and listened to them … and I was just in awe,” Summerlin says.
“A lot of people think farming is just farming, but oh man, there’s just so much more to it now.”
For tickets, details and a complete list of exhibitors by museum, visit www.mssciencefest.org.