On most Saturday mornings, the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery building bears a deserted look. The long lines for coffee are missing, and most of the plush couches in the ground floor hallway are unoccupied.
Last week, however, the place was buzzing with activity as the Wisconsin Science Festival stoked the collective curiosities of students and townsfolk towards modern science and art. The various exploration stations presented scientific topics ranging from nanoscience to optics, outer space, and the science-arts interface.
At the "Exploring the Nanoworld" station, enthusiastic kids stared intently at the perfectly symmetric chemistry models at the festival, which explained how atoms are arranged in carbon nanotubes.
“Nanotubes are really small cylinders of carbon that are about 10 nm wide. To put things in perspective, if every human being was 1 nm in size, the world’s population could fit into a Hot Wheels car,” said Ben Taylor, Assistant Director of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.
Taylor and other volunteers assisted visitors in building a giant twenty-foot model of a carbon nanotube out of gray balloons.
A few exhibits away, ophthalmologists explained and demonstrated the eye’s blind spot, a part in the eye’s field of vision that is not perceived, using a bovine model.
The incredible "Surface of water" station was undoubtedly a big hit among kids, who got the opportunity to stand inside a giant soap bubble – a fun, interactive way of demonstrating the surface forces responsible for water’s properties.
The festival, which was first organized in 2011, has a broad mandate, evident from the significant presence of creative arts..
Late Friday evening, artist Vivian Torrence and playwright, poet and Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann spoke about their collaborative project “Chemistry Imagined”, that presents a unique dichotomy between creative art and the spirit of science.
Torrence’s collages, many of which contained figures inspired by alchemy, are suitably enunciated by Hoffmann’s writings, and the final product resembles the emblem books of 16th and 17th century Europe.
On being quizzed about his approach to this project, Hoffmann said, “I think I made an attempt to understand Vivian’s thought process behind her collages. But I would also allow my own mind to interpret what I saw, and that did influence my writings.”
Earlier on Friday afternoon, Hoffmann also chaired a reading of his latest play, “Should’ve,” that discusses the social responsibility of scientists and artists through the fictional character of Friedrich Wertheim, a German born chemist who commits suicide, blaming himself for providing a neurotoxin to terrorists.
The festival is organized every year by UW-Madison, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and the Morgridge Institute for Research.