Festival pairs science and fun for week of activities

When the staff at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum began organizing the first Las Vegas Science and Technology Festival, the idea was met with skepticism, particularly by people with whom the organizers were dealing in other parts of the country.

“At the time, we had just been called the nation’s dumbest city (by a study from news and opinion website The Daily Beast) and wanted to show we weren’t dumb,” said Marilyn Gillespie, the museum’s director. “When we thought about it, there’s a rich history of science in Las Vegas, including the Hoover Dam and the Nevada Test Site.”

The fourth annual Las Vegas Science and Technology Festival is scheduled from April 25 through May 3 at locations across the valley.

“We were thrilled with the reception the event has received from the community,” Gillespie said. “We weren’t sure about our strategy of starting big, but the event has been so successful that we added two days to it … This year, we’ve tried to hit on three areas of interest: nature, health and applied science.”

The event was suggested by the museum’s chairman of the board, John H. Good, who is also the founder and CEO of Exhibit IQ, a company that produces traveling exhibitions. While visiting museums across the country, he noticed a burgeoning trend of science festivals being created. He suggested that Las Vegas do one and be ahead of the curve.

“We didn’t want to start a separate nonprofit, so it’s under the umbrella of the Natural History Museum,” Gillespie said. “A great deal of my staff works on coordination for the event, but we have a lot of great partners in the community that create the events and help out in other ways.”

Gillespie said the Clark County School District gets the festival’s schedule to all of its students and encourages field trips to events.

“Everything is free, and we want everything to be easily accessible,” she said. “There’s something going on every day, with events all over the valley and beyond.”

The event kicks off with what Gillespie called a “mini science expo” at the College of Southern Nevada’s campus at 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave.

Other events include a science film event and Science is Everywhere Day, with scientific behind-the-scenes looks at area attractions. Science Week is set to feature evening events during the school week, including a visit to Clark County Wetlands Park, 7050 Wetlands Park Lane.

“We have an event scheduled out here where kids will get a chance to look for nocturnal animals,” said Alison Brody, Clark County Wetlands Park recreation supervisor. “It’s a unique opportunity since the park usually closes at sundown. We’re bringing in a lot of our volunteers in hopes of keeping the groups that go out small. There’s a better chance of seeing something with a smaller group making less noise.”

The festival culminates May 3 with the Giant Expo at Cashman Center, 850 Las Vegas Blvd. North. The event is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with live entertainment and an expected 75 exhibitors planned.

“We don’t want exhibitors who are just sitting at a table passing out brochures,” Gillespie said. “The exhibitors are required to have interaction, demonstration and engagement. There are people who are turned off by science, and we want to show them and the kids of the community that science is interesting, and it can be fun.”

For a schedule of events, visit lasvegassciencefestival.com.

Contact East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.