Science City1

The third annual Tucson Festival of Books unveiled, this year, a brand new Science City. The Series of tents and stages offered science and technology-related programming geared toward children and adults. Photographed by John de Dios.

Six-year-old Brianna Toy sat anxiously on the black barstool. Hugging two pink dumbbells close to herself, Briana stretched out her legs in front of her, as the man with an accent and black, wide-brimmed leather hat better suited for the outback made ready to spin her around.

“Watch out for flying feet, folks,” the man announced, giving Brianna a nice push.

Brianna’s mom Angela Toy stood by, watching with a small group of people while hundreds of others sauntered past or meandered into the surrounding tents during on the sunny, spring afternoon in Tucson, Ariz.

Tyler Kurbat

Tyler Kurbat, a university student, faced his fear of snakes in the Sense-of-Place Tent. THe tent featured some of Tucson's science destinations and biodiversity. Photographed by John de Dios.

Toy, a Tucsonan, brought her daughter by to participate in this year’s Science City, a new offering at the annual Tucson Festival of Books. At first dubious of what the science offerings could provide for her daughter was pleasantly, said Toy who was clutching a bag of goodies from the different interactive tents. “It’s made science really interesting for us.”

“I want to do it again!” Brianna squealed in joy. Her mother noted that they were already making plans to ensure they plan more time to be at the festival next year.

“It’s a demonstration of the law of conservation of angular momentum and the physical effect for ballet dancers and ice skaters,” said Dr. Bruce Bayly, a professor of mathematics at the university, about his Spinning Chair of Insanity.

Body-Brain Connection

In the Body-Brain Connection tent, visitors were treated to facts about the human body and the brain. This brain was made using watermelon and pineapple-flavored Jell-o. Photographed by John de Dios.

Bayly, who had the affect of a county fair carnie, urged children, teenagers and even adults to take a spin on his black barstool as they walked past.

“You’ve got some really great questions,” Bayly playfully responded to a question about the experiment. “Keep studying your math and science, and when you get to the UA, we’ll teach you all the basics!”

Scenes like this made up the heart of the Science City. Thousands of children, teenagers and families flocked to the 10 different tents and stages that showcased a variety of science and technological activities. Hands-on offerings spanned from engineering gadgetry and robotics to Tucson’s biodiversity and some science-tourism destinations were showcased.

Bruce Bayly

Bruce Bayly, a professor of mathematics, instructs another participant on his Spinning Chair of Insanity. Bayly also runs the Arizona Mathematics Road Show that takes math-inspired activities to K-12 students, teachers and the general public. Photographed by John de Dios.

Educating and getting children excited about science and math was one of the key goals for this year’s Science City. Organizers spent the last several months drumming up interest and cultivating speakers and attractions that would both entertain and educate the tens of thousands of people expected to turn out for the two-day Spring event.

Shipherd Reed, a program coordinator for Flandrau: The UA Science Center, was busy throughout the weekend. Reed was everywhere, from volunteering for the Sense-of-Place tent, where the UA science destinations were featured, to handing out information for the different offerings. Reed also coordinates the Science Café in Tucson – a programming brought to the festival as an alternative for adults.

“The purpose of science city was to engage the public with science at the UA and in the Tucson region,” Reed wrote in an e-mail. “Science City brought together many different departments from the UA College of Science and regional organizations that relate to science to provide a showcase for the unique abundance and quality of science going on in the Tucson Region.”

Of course, the Science City of tents and entertainment at the book festival is only a taste of what Tucson is really trying to market itself.

Populated, literally, by hundreds, if not thousands of scientists from private companies and the University of Arizona, Tucson is a rich bed for science. How could it not be? The College of Science alone hosts departments like the Biosphere 2, Mt. Lemmon Sky Center, Flandrau Planetarium and the offices for the Vatican Observatory Research Group. Targeting the public, the College of Science also offers Science Downtown and Science Cafés at the swanky Cushing Street Bar and Restaurant where researchers present their work over dinner and drinks directly to the public.

Shark Jaws

John de Dios and Kristina Boynova have a little fun at the Natural World tent at the Science City. Photograph by Julian Ybarra.

In a t-shirt and jeans, Dr. Joaquin Ruiz, the dean of the University of Arizona College of Science and a geoscientist, was out to take in the festivities during the weekend.

Ruiz seemed thrilled about the turn out at the first Science City. He has been a proponent of an idea that the brands the city of Tucson as a Science City, a destination for scientific research and tourism.

“It’s really critical to be literate in science and technology these days,” Ruiz said. “A lot of the issues that is debated by policy makers and politicians are science issues.”

Thousands of families with children as young as infants to young adults in their early 20s flocked to the Science City at the book festival.

“Life as a scientist is a hoot,” Ruiz added, trying to contain his excitement. “If you want to be a kid for the rest of your life, be a scientist.”

Ruiz added that in the future, he hoped to expand the science literacy footprint at the book festival and provide more activities to draw in older children and college students.

Back with Bayly and his chair of insanity, 23-year-old Lynn Garnaat, a UA student, took a spin on the chair.

“All these science experiments remind me of being a kid,” Garnaat said. “I was complaining to [Dr. Bayly] about how these events are just for kids!”