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TENacious Engineering: Celebrating TEN Years of the Cambridge Science Festival

By Marybeth Martello, Ph.D. TEN years ago, in the Cambridge, Massachusetts City Council chambers, a whimsical, Rube Goldberg-inspired chain reaction launched the first Cambridge Science Festival. The MIT students who built the intricate machine stayed true to the well-known, playful humor of MITers; they used an oversized red sneaker to perform the Festival “kick off.” Since 2007, the Festival has carried forth the spirit and creativity of that first chain reaction. In fact, the Festival is a chain reaction. Through community building and public outreach, the Festival has triggered a decade of interest, excitement, and fun around STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics). The ripple effects of its growing programs have steadily extended the Festival’s geographic boundaries. While still thriving in Cambridge, the Festival now touches communities across the Commonwealth. TENacious Engineering is a project to celebrate the Festival’s TENth Anniversary. Inspired by the first kick-off, TEN teams, spanning… Read More

Music at the Cambridge Science Festival!

Hello, Everyone! My name is Shantasia Jones and I am currently a senior at the Community Charter School of Cambridge. I am currently interning with the Cambridge Science Festival. I find what they do here absolutely astounding because I get to see the different functions of the MIT Museum and how the festival operates. I am truly grateful to have this opportunity of interning at the Cambridge Science Festival because I know that science is all around us on our journey of everyday life, and to learn more about it makes me so excited. One of my personal passions is music – What is the purpose of music? What does it mean for us? What does it mean for the listeners, the audience? As for me, I always listen to music whether I’m doing my homework, on the train, or even doing laundry. Music creates a mood. It gives you… Read More

Red Dwarfs: A Planet’s Favorite Host

NASA/JPL-Caltech/ From the NASA Art Gallery “Planets Under a Red Sun” depicts 3 planets orbiting around a red dwarf star. By Paola Salazar For about as long as civilizations have existed, mankind has wondered one question: are we alone? Is there something out there in the stars that’s like us? While we can’t really speak on the existence of any alien civilizations or lack thereof, we can now, at the very least, safely say that planet formation around stars in and of itself is not uncommon. In fact, there are now over 2,000 confirmed planets, and around 5,000 candidate planets. Prof. Andrew West/bu.edu Boston University’s Andrew West, an associate professor in the Department of Astronomy who focuses his research on the stars that most commonly form these planets. These stars are known as red dwarfs or M-dwarf stars. Prof. West teaches a course on these exoplanets, called “Alien Worlds,” and… Read More

The (Science) Monster Mash!

By Paola Salazar       Want to do more than just trick or treat this year? How about making some gooey, weird, possibly tasty experiments that will give you some goodies to show off during Halloween weekend?   If you’re interested, look no further! We scoured the world for some of the best creepy crawlies, smushy witches (that’s right), and a few more activities that you and your family can do to have fun this weekend while still learning the science behind them.   1. Glow in the Dark Drinks & Ice:  If your family is hosting a Halloween party, did they buy a blacklight? Do you just have a blacklight at home because you’re cool like that? Well get ready to be cooler–with glow in the dark drinks.    If you use it for the punch bowl, you can even add other accessories to the bowl for extra… Read More

The Blood Moon Super Moon!

                  Flickr/ NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center By Paola Salazar Families and friends across the globe were watching the stars and sky Sunday night, whether cozily on porches and balconies, in the streets, at museums or at observatories, for a view they won’t get for quite a while–the blood moon super moon! We dare you to say that five times fast. But among our curios explorers at the Cambridge Science Festival, some may have been wondering–what exactly causes a blood moon, what makes this one a super moon or just generally, what is this big red thing in the sky where our “normal” moon should be?! Fear not, for we are going to break it down for these curious minds right here, right now. If we pretend this is an equation, the layout is like this: Super Moon + Total Lunar Eclipse =… Read More

Homo naledi: A new Homo Species Shrouded in Mysteries

By Paola Salazar     Picture this: a woman covered head to toe in dirt and debris, her hair in a ponytail under a helmet, loose long clothing enveloping her lanky body, her hand reaching up to her cheek to wipe away sweat. She’s wearing a helmet with a big bright flashlight attached to the front, and as she approaches a crack in the ground ahead of her, she switches the flashlight on. The fissure is about 7.5 inches wide, and is the entryway to a cave system that’s about 30 meters deep. Robert Clark/National Geographic: Lee Berger’s daughter, part of the excavation team (left). Paola Salazar/Facebook/American Association of Physical Anthropologists: The FB announcement from Lee Berger (right). This is one of the “underground astronauts” who flew to South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind when in 2013, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger announced the need for researchers who could fit into the cave entrance of… Read More

More on the Brain: How Do Our Brains Control Our Bodies?

By Paola Salazar   [“El Jaleo” by John Singer Sargent, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA.] 12-year-old Amanda Kelly asks how it is that one organ (the brain) can control an entire body’s functions and motions. Again, the MIT student group Communicating Science provided an answer for us. The brain is made up of a vast number of special communication cells called neurons that carry signals around the body. The brain has a sort of special highway of neurons that carry instructions directly to your spine. This is the spinal cord, where motor (for motion) and sensory (for feeling) nerves branch out. [http://www.headbacktohealth.com/dictionary.html] From the spinal cord, the motor signals are sent out to your muscles, where they release tiny signal molecules called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters cause your muscles to contract, leading to motion.  We don’t really understand how the spinal cord knows which signals to send to which muscles,… Read More

How Does the Brain Work?

By Paola Salazar  The Curiosity Challenge Why is the sun yellow? Why do grass and dirt have a stronger scent after it rains? How and why do my nails keep growing? What is a black hole? A while back, we offered children and teens an opportunity to submit questions related to any topic in science, tech, engineering and mathematics that they may have, and here we’ve done it again.     The Curiosity Challenge for ages 5-14 encourages curiosity.  We ask the students to enter their question about the world in whatever form – essay, poem, drawing, photograph.  All good science starts with our curiosity and questions of the world around us.  This series of blog posts will highlight some of the questions we have received through the Curiosity Challenge and some answers to them. We’ve reached out to graduate students and researchers in each field, and have begun getting some… Read More

Catching a Sea Perch

    by Eric Bender The underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) run by offshore industry or the Navy or scientists are usually big brawny fellows, designed to grab a valve on an oil platform at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico or scan remote areas of the Pacific sea floor or pluck cargo from the Titanic. But you can build a model ROV that fits inside a milk crate and zooms through water in basically the same ways. That’s exactly the role of MIT’s Sea Perch project, which builds these small educational wet wanderers, and exactly what teams of middle and high schoolers accomplished Wednesday at the MIT Museum. At the start, about half the kids said they were enthusiasts for science and engineering, and the other half cheerfully said they had been forced to come by their parents. Ably led by Kathryn Shroyer, mechanical engineer and Sea Grant… Read More

Safety first

by Mary Alexandra Agner The Volpe Center’s railroad simulator and its control room. Anxious about air travel? Apprehensive about automobile recalls or the reliability of the next bus you board? Concerned your cruise ship may stall in the Gulf? The Volpe National Transportation Systems Center is working to make your transit options as safe as possible. For the Volpe Center’s first appearance in the Cambridge Science Festival on Tuesday, four staff members presented “transportation ideas worth sharing” about passenger safety during plane, bus, car, and ship travel. The event culminated in a tour—with hands-on participation—of the Center’s plane, car, and rail engine simulators. After director Robert Johns gave an overview focused on the history and mandate of the Center—”advancing transportation for the public good”—two speakers addressed aspects of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). Kathryn Bernazzani discussed aircraft wake turbulence, explaining the concept of a wake… Read More