In its 8th year, Wisconsin Science Festival hopes to attract Madison’s Friday night crowd

October 11, 2018

Whether you’re having dinner or just grabbing drinks with a friend, if you’re headed to Capitol Square or State Street this Friday there’s a good chance science will be on the menu.

The eighth annual Wisconsin Science Festival starts Thursday and includes 275 events statewide, allowing participants to interact with scientists and learn more about science, math, technology and engineering.

But on Friday, 25 of those events will take place at venues Downtown for “ Science on the Square,” a new effort aimed at a wider range of participants who might not have normally thought to attend a festival activity.

“We just happen to be bringing a lot of science to venues,” said Laura Heisler, director of the Wisconsin Science Festival. “We’re excited to see if it attracts a different type of person to the event.”

Friday’s offerings will include an overview of the cheese making process — complete with tasting session — and an introduction to rock climbing and the physics behind it.

Patrons at Parthenon Gyros, 316 State St., Friday night will be able to pair gyros and a special ouzo drink with stargazing as part of Science on the Square.

The eatery will open up its roof and have 3-D goggles, telescopes, meteorites and UW-Madison astronomers to explain what participants are seeing, said Erin Vranas.

“It’ll be different than your typical going out to the bar for food and drinks,” she said.

A free trolley featuring “science improv” by scientists will even be available to shuttle people from location to location throughout the night.

At the Wisconsin Historical Museum, 30 N. Carroll St., science will intersect with the state’s history during a night of talks and activities that will touch on butter making, the science of a Friday night fish fry and the history of food in Wisconsin, among other topics.

“I think science and history are really well linked,” said Katie Shapiro, program and special events coordinator at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. “Science is always trying to build on the past and move forward.”

Shapiro said she hopes attendees come away with a sense of pride for Wisconsin and all of the science-related work that’s done in the state.

“I think something to take away would be the variety of work people are doing in Wisconsin,” she said. “Wisconsin just has this rich history of science and innovation.”

A growing festival

For those who can’t make it to one of the 25 Friday events Downtown, more than 200 others — including an overview of the state’s geologic history, a distilling class or chance to interact with and control robots — will take place in 39 Wisconsin counties during the four-day event.

Venues include libraries, University of Wisconsin System campuses, museums, businesses, organizations and state parks, among others.

The festival will also include a session on why central Wisconsin is a great place to grow ginseng and a presentation from UW-Madison researcher Francis Halzen, who was involved in a recent groundbreaking astronomical discovery involving black holes and gamma-ray bursts.

With two-thirds of the events happening outside of Dane County, this year’s festival will feature the most events outside of the area so far, Heisler said. It’ll also be the most events in the festival’s history.

Most events are free and geared to all ages.

“People are naturally kind of drawn to science, whether they identify as science geeks or not,” Heisler said. “The more we can tap into ways of answering science questions, the better.”