The World Science Festival kicks off next week in New York City kicks with five days of panel discussions, science-inspired dance performance, and even a street festival.  But co-founder Brian Greene has also wanted to use the festival as a springboard to provide year-round educational opportunities for underprivileged kids.

“I went through the New York City school system,” says Greene, “and I was so fired up about science that I went to Columbia University as a seventh-grader and started knocking on doors.”  Now, he wants to get today’s kids fired up as well.

The Festival’s most developed educational program is called Pioneers in Science, where 6 children will get to sit on stage and interview oceanographer Sylvia Earle and Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus.  But preparations for the interview began long before the festival, when 30 children from two New York City public schools, the Manhattan Center for Math and Science and the Brooklyn International High School (which accepts students who are recent immigrants), learn what it’s like to be a scientist. 

Half the children spent their time learning molecular biology at the Harlem DNA lab run by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and half learned to scuba dive and find out what it’s like to be an underwater explorer with scientists at CUNY City Tech. “Science now comes alive,” says Greene, “It’s not just stuff in school in textbook.”

The other two educational efforts are still in their pilot stages, Greene says.  This year, the festival partnered with Global Nomads, a network of over 2000 schools in the U.S. and abroad that runs video-conferences to get kids engaged in global issues.  In the pilot program, kids from four schools watched the film Naturally Obsessed: The Making of a Scientist, and got a chance to talk to the filmmakers and the Columbia scientists involved.  (We wrote about James Watson’s appearance at the film’s premiere in February, where he expressed his own views on training young scientists.)

And with the help of the Bezos Family Foundation, the festival started a program to bring kids from all five New York City boroughs to the festival with a teacher, get interested in a topic, and research it back in their classroom over the course of the year.  This year they only have 5 students involved, but they plan to double that number every year, meaning that 10 kids will come next year. “It’s a geometric progression,” Greene says, “so it gets big pretty fast.”

Image of Brian Greene from last year's festival courtesy of Suzie Horgan