Science on State Street festival emphasizes conservation, ingenuity, and diversity: More than 55 exhibits on display for MetroWest community to see

The Massachusetts Audubon Society brought baby snapping turtles and tadpoles to show festival attendees. (Bailey Morrison / THE GATEPOST)

Framingham State hosted the fifth annual Science on State Street festival April 27, sponsored by MathWorks, MutualOne Bank, Mass Cultural Council, and other organizations.

Every year, Science on State Street, – originally part of the Cambridge Science Festival – provides a family-friendly opportunity to go table to table to view and participate in demonstrations, and also engage in interactive activities. 

Some of the recurring themes of the festival’s exhibitions included climate change and fostering creative innovation.

The festival flyer also advertised the Framingham Earth Day Festival, which took place at the same time on the Framingham Centre Common.

There were over 55 exhibits on display, more than last year’s 40. FSU departments and clubs with exhibits included College of STEM departments, including biology and chemistry, the College of Education, the Math and Wildlife clubs, and the Aspiring Health Professionals Club.

Junior Jacob Mixon from the Aspiring Health Professionals Club gave a presentation on how an electrocardiogram machine works. The club also displayed a model of a human diaphragm.

“We do it to show children and their families the importance of diet and its impact on the cardiovascular system,” Mixon said.

Cameron Danwah, the former president of FSU’s Pre-Engineering Club, and Kalima Bukenya, the president of the Rocketry Club at UMass Lowell, displayed two rockets built to-scale by the club while the Star Wars theme song played in the background.

According to Bukenya, the larger rocket was capable of reaching altitudes of approximately 30,000 feet. 

“I’m proud of all of us for getting this completed,” Bukenya said.

Danwah, who transferred to UMass Lowell after completing the two-year engineering program at FSU, said, “Every major solves problems, so anyone can be an engineer. Everyone has a myriad of passions they can bring into the club.”

Approximately 40 other non-FSU organizations and science-based companies came to put on exhibitions, including the MetroWest STEM Education Network (MSEN), New England Sci-Tech in Natick, The Massachusetts Audubon Society, and Southwick’s Zoo. 

Some exhibitors, such as FrankenS.T.E.A.M. from Avon and iCode from Wellesley, emphasized a “STEAM”-centered education initiative,  as opposed to the widely known STEM-centered curriculum.

In recent years, many companies have incorporated the A, which stands for “art,” in order to highlight the role of the arts and creativity in STEM education.

Soundarya Shastri, a manager at iCode, demonstrated how to play with a kit called Makey Makey. iCode’s demonstration included a circuit board, alligator clips, Play-Doh, and fruits to create a virtual piano. 

The circuit board was hooked up to a laptop with the Makey Makey piano game. In order to create sound, participants would touch the Play-Doh and fruits – to which the alligator clips were hooked up – and as a result, different notes would play on the piano.

Shastri said kits like Makey Makey teach children about “invention literacy” in a “hands-on way.”

Tony Ghelfi from the program FrankenS.T.E.A.M. brought his fleet of Dashbot Robots, created by the company Wonder Workshop.

Participants were able to program the robots using an iPad app that controlled the robots’ directions and movements. They were also able to make the robots play basketball and soccer against each other by controlling their arms, which had grippers to pick up the balls.

Mass Audubon brought baby snapping turtles and displayed them in small tanks. 

Wendy Ernst, a teacher naturalist at the society, said, “The biggest issues that turtles face are habitat loss, cars, and pollution.”

She added, “They’re also having problems with reproduction, because people keep taking them home and then they’re not able to reproduce.”

Southwick’s Zoo also had animals on display – four Madagascar hissing cockroaches. They also brought samples of snakeskin and feathers belonging to exotic birds.

Matt Charpentier from the New England Wild Flower Society, which is becoming the Native Plant Trust, brought samples of flora native to the New England region.

“We send out volunteers to find rare plants – it’s like a treasure hunt!” Charpentier said.

Representatives from the Society of Black Engineers also had a table where they advertised their Boston-based professional and pre-collegiate programs.

Ladi Olaoye talked about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the STEM fields. “The area is a leader in STEM education but lacks in representation – especially from Black and Latino communities,” he said.

Olaoye added, “We have days where we do all-expenses-paid trips for high schoolers to the Museum of Science in Cambridge. It gives a lot of them their first real exposure to STEM careers, and that’s really important.”

The Christa McAuliffe Center for Integrated Science Learning, which has a planetarium located in O’Connor Hall, put on shows throughout the duration of the festival facilitated by senior Mary Teresa and freshman James McColley.

One of the shows, “Oasis in Space,” highlighted the role of Earth as the only source of liquid water and intelligent life in the entire solar system.

This year’s keynote speaker was astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, who staffs the Chandra X-ray Center at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge.

The center oversees the Chandra X-ray Observatory, a telescope launched almost 20 years ago to “observe X-rays from high-energy regions of the universe, such as the remnants of exploded stars,” according to its website. The observatory is also “NASA’s flagship mission for X-ray astronomy.”

At 2 p.m. in the McCarthy Center Forum, McDowell gave a talk called “Moon Race: The U.S.-Soviet Competition to Put a Human on the Moon,” detailing the events of the Space Race that took place in the latter half of the twentieth century. The talk was part of the “Moon Landing in Context” series.

“Who here has been to Australia?” McDowell asked the audience. “It’s a long flight, but you could do it. And going to the moon – going to Australia, and back, 12 times … that’s the equivalent of going to the moon.

“So, it’s not so unimaginably far,” he said.

Irene Porro, director of the McAuliffe Center, thanked sponsors – giving a special shout-out to MathWorks – and McDowell for their involvement in the festival.

At the keynote introduction, Porro said, “Everyone who comes, both to present their activities or to participate as an audience, comes because we have a shared passion for science and engineering – but also the idea of doing fun and intelligent things together.”

Porro said attendance was partially tracked through bracelets given out at a welcome table outside May Hall. She estimated approximately 400 to 450 people attended the event, less than half the previous year’s crowd of more than 1,000.

“The wind and the cold temperature kept people indoors on Saturday, but those who were brave enough to come out had a wonderful time,” she said.

The outdoor event is consistently scheduled “rain or shine,” according to MSEN.

Porro added, “The event was wonderful. Our exhibitors brought their A-game to the festival. 

“We had a smaller attendance by the public than in the past, but one cannot plan for the ideal weather,” she said. “We plan everything else very accurately, but, of course, we have no control over the weather!”

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