Nerds take over the city for the Philadelphia Science Festival

The Franklin Institute’s Mickey Maley smoke a marshmallow — actually, he's performing the “dragon breath” experiment.  Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro
The Franklin Institute’s Mickey Maley smokes a marshmallow — actually, he’s performing the “dragon breath” experiment.
Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro

This year’s Philadelphia Science Festival is starting out with a bang tonight at the fest’s Science Carnival After Hours at the Franklin Institute.

When we say bang, we specifically mean the reaction of liquid nitrogen fused with a cracker in your mouth. It’s an explosion — perfectly safe, we hear.

“The smoke goes out of your mouth and you look like a fire-breathing dragon,” says Liz Kelley of the Franklin Institute.

Fire-breathing dragons over drinks in a casual setting is a way to get those who are not so scientifically inclined engaged in science.

“Liquid nitrogen isn’t something you normally have access to,” Kelley says. “It’s a good way to experience science in a new novel way.”

Such is the mission of the fourth annual Philly Science Fest. There are more than 100 events around the city, tonight through May 3, in austere locales like the Franklin Institute and decidedly non-traditional places, like the Paine’s Skatepark, where the science of skateboarding and barefoot running will be discussed.

Most of the events are kid-friendly —such as the Mess Fest on April 27, where Alka-Seltzer rockets will be launched — but there’s a good helping of adult-themed stuff, too: The “Nerd Nite Brunch: Body vs. Booze” on April 27; “Phanatics: Philadelphia’s Love/Hate Relationship with Sports” on April 28; and “Love, Lust and Loathing: The Science Behind Our Strongest Emotions” on April 30, to highlight a few.

“‘Love, Lust and Loathing’ is going to be really fun,” says Gerri Trooskin, the science festival director at the Franklin Institute. “A talk will be called ‘Does Size Matter’ and it’s the role of vocal chords and the role they play in human attraction.”

Like the old songs says, it’s all about how you call your lover boy.


Drawing a crowd

More then 90,000 people attended festival events last year, including the wrap-up Science Carnival on the Parkway, which drew 30,000, Trooskin says. This year’s carnival on May 3 will feature 175 exhibitors blinding you with science, plus live entertainment and food trucks.

“We want to make sure that this is not only fun and interactive and entertaining, but it’s also rich in content,” says Trooskin of the fest. “That’s what people are drawn to.”

Event prices range from free to $40. Get all the details at


Kick-off party: Science Carnival After Hours

Friday, 6:30 p.m.
Franklin Institute
222 N. 20th St.
$15/$10 for members
It’s a grown-up science wonderland with music, demonstrations and a variety of “sensory stimulating” stations. Yards’ official festival beer, Cerebral Pourtex, will be unveiled. We hear it makes you think you’re smarter.


Highlights for the grown ups:

Nerd Nite Brunch: Body vs. Booze
April 27, noon
Frankford Hall
1210 Frankford Ave.
$5/$15 for VIP seating
This one is the “hangover brunch,” according to festival director Gerri Trooskin. Learn what happens to the body when you’ve had too much to drink and uncover the truth about hangover cures.

Explorer Sunday: Barefoot Running Clinic
April 27, 1 p.m.
Paine’s Skatepark
Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Ben Franklin Parkway
When you first saw them, you said they’re nuts. Now they’re everywhere. Just what are the benefits of barefoot running?

Explorer Sunday: Science of Skateboarding
April 27, 2 p.m.
Paine’s Skatepark
It’s the science of the half-pipe. Learn from this interactive demo about how the physics concepts such as momentum, gravity, friction and centripetal force affect skateboarding.

Science Crawl: Brain Games
Sunday, 4 p.m.
Old City venues
$35 (Food and/or beverage included at each stop)
It’s not a pub crawl, but a science crawl. Explore the “neuroscience of memory” at the Continental, National Mechanics, Shane Confectionery and other spots.

Phanatics: Philadelphia’s Love/Hate Relationship with Sports
April 28, 6 p.m.
Frankford Hall
Why do we care so much? Psychologists, biofeedback specialists, journalists and more converge to answer that question — and maybe even figure out why our teams lose so much.

Love, Lust and Loathing: The Science Behind Our Strongest Emotions
April 30, 6 p.m.
Frankford Hall
Six local experts explore the chemical charges behind our strongest emotions and how they relate in the animal world. A $15 VIP ticket gets you preferred seating, a 5 oz. pretzel and a $5 ticket for the bar.

Beer Chemistry
May 2, 7 p.m.
Yards Brewing Company
901 N. Delaware Ave.
Ages 21 and up
$40 (includes food and drink samples and two additional draft beers)
What makes beer beer? Find out as Yards brewers and Monell sensory scientists demonstrate the science behind the suds.


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