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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Todd Boyette has made a career of communicating science to the general public.

In addition to heading the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, he also has led the charge to create the first statewide science festival in the country.

The begins this weekend and features events across the state for the next two weeks. It’s a partner event in concert with the next month in Washington, D.C.

Boyette shared a few moments this week to discuss the festival and some of the highlights it offers.

How did the idea for the N.C. Science Festival come about?

A few years ago, we identified the need for a regional science festival at the planetarium. We flew up to Boston, Mass., for the Cambridge Science Festival that the MIT Museum puts together every summer. We thought we could replicate it but hadn’t moved on it until I got a call from Larry Bock, director of the USA Science & Engineering Festival, which is scheduled in D.C. on Oct. 23-24. I wondered if there was a possibility that we could launch our event around the same time.

Then what?

After talking to a few people, it was clear that focusing on a region was probably too limiting in terms of what North Carolina was about. Most people were thinking we could still have the festival in the Triangle, but you couldn’t truly celebrate all the things happening across the state. That’s when I really began to wonder if we could truly have a statewide festival? Could we find partners all across the state to celebrate science in their communities rather than coming to the Triangle? We had a goal of 200 events, and we have now surpassed 400 events across the state.

You’re talking mountains to the sea, right?

Absolutely. I’m actually going up to Duck to observe an event there, which is about as far northeast as you can go in the state. We do have folks who are travelling to Asheville and Hendersonville for events. For a first-year project, we’ve done a nice job. Most of the events are in the Piedmont, but I think over time we can spread this out more.

What are some of the program highlights?

We have three signature events. One is the opening event on Saturday – Bugfest at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. Then we have Adam and Jamie, the co-hosts of Discovery Channel’s , at the Dean Smith Center on Sept. 19. They won’t be busting myths, but they will be giving us some outtakes and giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the show as well as taking questions from the audience. Then we have the , hosted by UNC-Chapel Hill on Saturday, Sept. 25. The UNC campus will be open with demonstrations, lab tours, and special talks. There will also be the N.C. Science Challenge with different kinds of science events that people can participate in.

Are there plans to make this an annual event?

Yes. We have pulled together a board of advisors who will meet in mid-September. Their main charge is to develop a plan to make this a sustained annual event.

What have you been most pleased about so far?

I’ve been most pleased with how everyone is eager to work together to make this happen. We have to tackle the issue of our place in the world. Our role as leaders in science, innovation, and technology is certainly being challenged worldwide. I think we have to tackle this in multiple ways, and I think the science festival is a good way to do this and apparently many people agree with that.

How does the partnership between business and education make this possible?

Science educators like me are focused on increasing the science literacy of our constituents, whether these constituents are students in a classroom or a family visiting a science museum. We are focused on achieving this in the most effective ways possible. Businesses can and do support these kinds of efforts because they see the benefit from a global level; they are competing for worker talent, ideas, and their place in the market. Like educators, business leaders see the need for a new perspective on science, technology, and innovation. They see the need to celebrate and acknowledge scientific achievement as much as some of our global competitors do. This festival is a good example of how we all have a common goal and we’re working together to achieve it.

Finally, do you have any advice to parents trying to interest their children in science?

Do not be afraid of science. Children are very perceptive and one of the worst things we can do as parents if we are trying to encourage our children is to make them nervous about science. We need to become more open and embrace the idea that science is ultimately about being curious. Appreciate the fact that many big challenges we’re facing have to be resolved through scientific innovation. Find resources in your local community that promote this kind of thinking and this kind of creativity.

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