Ninth grader Nate Darkins grins from ear-to-ear as he listens to a tour leader describe the Clark Telescope at Lowell Observatory.
Nate wants to be an astronomer someday. So he’s delighted to see the historic telescope up close.
“It was very cool. It was humongous,” he says.
Nate was so excited to visit Lowell during the Festival of Science that he convinced his parents to drive up to Flagstaff from Prescott. After spending the day there, he’s thinking about what he would like to discover someday.
“The next planet,” he says. “A planet with life on it. That would be awesome.”
Getting kids excited about science was exactly what local scientists had in mind when they began the Festival of Science 23 years ago.
Flagstaff is home to dozens of scientific businesses and institutions.
And by opening their doors to the community, kids get a chance to do experiments, collect specimens and look through microscopes alongside researchers and inventors.
“To be able to hook up tomorrow’s scientists – our students of today -- and be able to put them in touch one on one, and get their hands on the tools of the scientists and explore together and understand the excitement that scientists feel when they are discovering something, is unmatched,” says festival organizer Bonnie Stevens.
Brianna Ives is a fourth grader in Flagstaff, and she says she doesn’t really like science.
But she says there something different about learning at the Festival of Science than in her classroom.
“It feels much better than school,” she says. “I don’t like school because it’s boring.”
But she says the festival is fun because she can walk around, dig in the dirt for fossils and see the stars up close.
Geoff Notkin says that’s what makes the Festival of Science special.
The star of the Science Channel’s popular show Meteorite Men drew a crowd of youngsters to Lowell on Sunday night.
Notkin says, for him, the joy of science comes from exploring. And that’s what kids love too.
“The minute I got out in the field and I found a fossil, or a geology teacher took me to a quarry and said, ‘Look, you can see a million years of terrestrial history,’ or to go out at night and look through a telescope. These are the things that make it real,” he says.
Flagstaff fourth grader Austin Rae says he now wants to do his part to save our oceans.
He listened to Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of legendary filmmaker Jacques Cousteau, at the festival last week.
Now he’s concerned about the effects of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It was hurting water wildlife, and just hurting the ocean itself, making it not as good and beautiful as a place to see and to be at and know.”
Festival organizers also hope students will be inspired to pursue careers in science.
Notkin, says that’s important because the U.S. has lost its edge in science and innovation.
“In order to regain it, we have to inspire young people today, now, to be interested in science,” he says.
The Festival of Science continues through Sunday.