The future is now 

Colorado Springs Science Festival helps fuel brick-and-mortar dreams

According to John Poss, director of the Colorado Springs Science Festival, our community has taken the path least explored when it comes to science fests and centers and such.

"We're part of a science festival alliance that's run out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. It's actually part of the MIT Museum there," Poss explains. "I just got back from a trip to Dayton and Schenectady, and I think one of the big differences ... is that most festivals are a part of an existing science center." Which means most fests evolve out of the ongoing operations of a brick-and-mortar site.

Meanwhile, our city started its festival, Steve Rothstein says, as the "product of our effort to bring a world-class science center to Colorado Springs."

And as president of the board for the Colorado Springs Science Center, Rothstein knows much about that effort. He was part of the original group that founded the vision, incorporated the center as a nonprofit in 2009, and then kicked off the festival in 2010.

"We foresee a science center that'll service 300,000 to 500,000 people a year," he says. "And that ends up being about a [40,000]-to-60,000-square-foot museum space. Ideally situated, hopefully, probably situated, in downtown Colorado Springs. That's about a $50 million project.

"Big," he adds.

Some may dismiss such an idea as the "pipe dream of a few people," in Rothstein's words, but it's further along than you might expect. It's actually mentioned within Colorado Springs' City for Champions proposal, and Rothstein compares it to another C4C project.

"We are where the Olympic Museum was two years ago. ... In the vision, we are well-positioned to be in that second wave of development efforts in downtown Colorado Springs to come up in the wake of City for Champions, and other things that are happening currently. So it's a real deal. It's just emerging still."

So while Science Center board members and other volunteers plug along with their work — on a timeline to open doors "2020-ish," says Rothstein — Poss and about 200 volunteers continue to focus on producing excitement through the annual festival (and raising money for this almost completely free program through campaigns like Indy Give!).

Over nine days this past October, the fest drew more than 15,000 attendees to 70 individual events, at locations all over the region. It was bookended by the kid-focused Cool Science Carnival Day at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus and the inaugural Mini Maker Faire, a collaboration with the Pikes Peak Library District.

Activities in between ranged from stargazing to geocaching to CSI tours at the El Paso County Coroner's Office and an Antarctic discovery series at Colorado College. All of it was meant to draw a wide audience. As Rothstein says, the target audience is "the inquisitive mind. And implied in that, is that an inquisitive mind exists in the 8-year-old and the 80-year-old and everybody in between."

Poss adds, "We use the term — or at least I do, anyway — 'citizen scientist.' A citizen scientist is anybody, from a kid, to a young adult, an adult, a senior. I think it's important to have something for the whole continuum."

Like beer, wine and whiskey. Or as Poss calls it, "the science of beverage."

For those on the 21-plus end of the continuum, festival tours and talks take place at D'Vine Wine in Manitou Springs, Distillery 291 and Bristol Brewing Company, and explain distillation, fermentation, and other behind-the-scenes elements of production. Beer also features in a session titled "Science on Tap." During the festival week, Science on Tap welcomes in local science fair winners to present their projects.

If you missed the fest this year, you can catch the Science on Tap offshoot. On the second Monday of every month at Jack Quinn Irish Alehouse & Pub, the festival brings in local scientists and engineers who, as Rothstein says, "are doing real-life, real-world research on important topics. We put a beer in their hand or a glass of wine in their hand and they talk very informally and very casually about the work they're doing."

PowerPoints aren't allowed during the 15-minute presentation, but audience questions are encouraged. "We have a 45-minute to 60-minute Q&A session that follows that all comes from a bunch of adults who are just interested in understanding and knowing about this stuff."

Which really gets to the heart of what the Colorado Springs Science Festival is all about. "The role that science and technology plays in our lives is just exploding," says Rothstein, offering as examples our phones and computers.

"Think for a moment, deeply if you will, about the science and technology behind those things — not even just the circuits that create the allowing of electrons to move in the right way so that you can hear my voice, and you can hit a key just so that an 'a' shows up on your Word document there. But even go into the science and technology to create the plastic that the computer is cased in. And the drilling for petroleum resources that creates that plastic. ... These are all things that are so much more a deeper and vital fabric of our lives in general that by definition science and technology is all around us."


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