265 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139 csf@cambridgesciencefestival.org

Learning years of science research in five minutes

I spent Friday contemplating nuclear waste, parallel universes, and psychopaths. Usually I don’t jump around thinking about those topics, but during Big Ideas for Busy People, an event preceding the Cambridge Science festival, along with nearly five hundred other attendees I learned about these topics and more all within the course of two hours. In brief and condensed presentations, ten scientists spoke about whatever they liked in their field of expertise. For example, George Church provided a set of reasons why synthetic life is important; Angela Belcher described how genetic information can be used to make structures without DNA; and Marc Hauser presented us with a philosophical question, asking us whether people who do bad things are actually evil by birth or evil by actions. What I especially appreciated was that each speaker brought their own style to the talks, not recycling presentations from other events but tailoring what they… Read More

Holograms: More than just pretty pictures?

At this point, you may be wondering, “Why does MIT, a university known for driving innovation, care about and collect pretty 3D pictures?” Well, it turns out that holography has some pretty important real-world applications, such as data storage. As you probably know because you’re reading this blog, we live in an age of information. Of course, this explosion of information wouldn’t be possible without ways to quickly store and transfer large quantities of data. So far, we’ve been relying on conventional optical storage technologies (e.g. CD’s, DVD’s, Blu-Ray) to handle this need. While current storage needs are being met, storage technologies must continue to improve in order to keep pace with the rapidly increasing demand. This is where holography comes in. Although optical storage technologies have improved by leaps and bounds since the advent of CD’s (DVD’s can hold 15 times more information than CD’s and Blu-Ray discs can… Read More

A Carnival With No Clowns?

When I think of attending a carnival on a Saturday afternoon, I think of clowns, cotton candy, farris wheels, and amusement booths. The Cambridge Science Festival is hosting a “Carnival” this Saturday as a kick-off event to their 10-day festival. But, there will not be clowns or cotton candy or any of the things that first come to mind when I think of carnival except for the booths. What can you expect from this so called “carnival”? When you walk up to the attraction booths, you will not be handed a handful of darts and asked to pop the water-balloons to receive a prize. Rather, you may be asked to spit in a cup to sequence your DNA or maybe asked to peek into a suitcase that contains fiber optics made out of Jell-O. According to the festivals website the “Carnival” will feature many interesting attractions and hands-on workshops that… Read More

Spit In A Cup And See Your Future

Yup, it’s really that simple. This weekend come spit in a cup and learn about your DNA, which ultimately can reveal to you your future. How? Well, everyone has DNA. It is our genetic code; many refer to it as the “blue print” of human life. It makes you, YOU and me, ME. The difference between our DNA is the sequence of the chemical bases. All DNA is made up of four chemical bases: Adenine (A), guanine (G), cystine (C), and thymine (T). We each have an estimated three billion of these bases in our genome. They are organized in an infinite amount of sequences throughout our bodies and in turn it makes every individual unique. The sequence is specifically referred to as the genome. Our genomes are unbelievably huge! Your entire genome fills 200 1,000-page New York City telephone directories. And, if you unwrap all the DNA you have… Read More


The Truth about Phantom Loads It’s possible that you might be paying for extra electricity without knowing it. You may have already cut back on your energy consumption in the typical ways, replacing light bulbs and purchasing energy-efficient appliances. Test your knowledge of home energy efficiency at the Energy Efficiency Game Show from 12:00 noon – 4:00 pm on Saturday April 24th at Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway, as part of the Science Carnival at the Cambridge Science Festival. So is it possible that you might still be paying more for electricity than you actually use? Imagine this scenario: settling down on the sofa during a calm winter evening, you turn on your energy efficient floor lamp to begin peacefully reading, Green Your Home All-In-One: For Dummies. Just as you get to an exciting section on combination compost/recycling units, an intrusively loud noise erupts from the neighbor’s open window ripping… Read More

What’s in a laser?

Eleven days from today, the Cambridge Science Festival opens with a lunchtime laser show. This is the third in a series of posts designed to familiarize you with lasers — before the showtime lights dim. What: Cambridge Science Festival Laser Show When: Saturday, April 24, Noon Where: Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway. Free shuttles run from the Harvard Square Red Line T stop. Next week: what to look for at the CSF laser show.

Big telescopes; Bigger Questions; and Really Big Mistakes

Imagine its 1930, and you’re a veteran Harvard astronomer, talking to ordinary folk about your work.It’s the most exciting time in your field since Isaac Newton, but its surely sort of embarrassing too.Those folk might reasonably say to you: “Hey, just ten years ago, most of you people thought our Milky Way galaxy was the whole universe – and now this Hubble fellow tells us there are billions of galaxies just like ours out there.”Or – referring to Cecilia Payne – they could say: “What’s more, you people all thought the stars were made of IRON, like my CAR, until just last year, when a LADY – someone’s assistant! – proved they’re made of hydrogen gas, which couldn’t be more different! Have you got ANYTHING right?”Now – in 2010, after a decade of equally stunning new discoveries – Harvard’s astronomers face a remarkably similar time of excitement and embarrassment.Embarrassment, because… Read More

Of Lightbulbs and Lasers

On April 24, the Cambridge Science Festival will open with a laser show. You’ll be sitting in the dark, waiting for the show to start — and then you’ll think, “WAIT! How does that work?” Let’s start with a thought experiment… Lasers and lightbulbs continue below the cut! What: Cambridge Science Festival Laser Show When: Saturday, April 24, Noon Where: Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway. Free shuttles run from the Harvard Square Red Line T stop. Next week: how do we get from stimulated emission to a laser pointer?

Hello Holography

Are you tired of your boring old two-dimensional photographs? Ever gone through your old family photo albums and wished that you could relive some moments? Don’t despair; holograms are here! Holograms are commonly described as “3D photographs,” though the processes involved in making the two different types of photographs are quite different. Both conventional photographs and holograms are made on a flat piece of photographic film that reacts to different intensities of light, but holograms render information about the depth of the object: the object appears to literally pop out of the page. How do holograms manage to do that? When you take a conventional photograph, your camera opens the shutter to let light through to hit the film. The light that enters your camera has already hit and reflected off the object that you’re capturing. The object reflects light with different intensities (brightness) depending on the physical characteristics of… Read More

An Ideal Polling Booth?

Have you ever thought about the design process behind a polling booth? If you haven’t, it’s completely understandable since most polling booths are not very sophisticated or aesthetically appealing. Then again, there’s only one requirement: to protect the privacy of the voter, and this can be done simply with curtains. When I tried to find the history of the architectural design behind polling booths and how they’ve changed with the addition of new voting technology, I couldn’t find anything. Even with Google. I couldn’t even find anything about famous polling booths. The closest site I could find to the history of polling booths discusses the mechanics behind how voting data has been collected (e.g. paper ballots, mechanical level machines, etc.)The Internet cares more about the nearest polling booth than the actual design behind the booth. Then again, the designs aren’t usually memorable. Can you remember what the last booth you… Read More