Curiosity abounds at Cambridge Science Festival

From left: Annie d’Arbeloff, Kiran Biddinger, and Nori d’Arbeloff at a laser light show at the festival in 2010.
From left: Annie d’Arbeloff, Kiran Biddinger, and Nori d’Arbeloff at a laser light show at the festival in 2010.

Sidewalk astronomy, robots that fly, culinary chemistry, and testing new video games? The Cambridge Science Festival may have something for everybody. Now in its sixth year, the festival runs April 20-29, and almost all events are free.

“The whole idea is to make science accessible, engaging, and fun for everyone,” says festival director P.A. d’Arbeloff.

Last year, an estimated 50,000 people attended. With more than 100 events in Cambridge and Boston, “this year is definitely bigger,” she says.


The mother of 10-year-old twins, d’Arbeloff believes it’s important to foster interest in science. “As kids grow older, curiosity tends to be stifled,” she says. “And what we want to say is don’t stifle that curiosity. You have to manage it. Everybody needs to stay curious.”

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Here are some highlights.

For the kid in all of us

The festival kicks off at noon on April 20, with the Science Carnival at the Cambridge Public Library. This year, the theme is the science of the circus, and there will be stilt walkers, jugglers, and contortionists.

“You’ll understand the science, the physics, the biology, all the pieces that go into a circus,” says d’Arbeloff.

There will also be numerous booths and performances. Kids can don lab coats and make blue slime with Pfizer scientists, explore a human cell magnified 300,000 times, and learn about LEGO robotics systems with Children’s Technology Workshops Boston.


Everything at the carnival is interactive, says d’Arbeloff. “It has to be hands-on.”

For the sports junkie

For the first time, the festival is pairing with the Red Sox to explore the science of sports. What makes a curveball curve? Why and how can you control your parachute when you’re skydiving? Learn from athletes, trainers, video game makers, and sports medicine doctors.

Wally the Green Monster will be at the 1 p.m. “Science of Sports” event at Madison Park High School and John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in Roxbury. And Andy Andres, a professor at Boston University, will lead a hands-on presentation about the science of baseball.

The Red Sox take on the Yankees that night at Fenway, and they will incorporate some science activities into the pregame ceremony, and host tables in the concourse with science activites.

“We’re trying to reach out to an audience that may not think that science is for them, but may have an interest in sports,” says d’Arbeloff.

For the starstruck


Saturday, April 28, is National Astronomy Day, and the festival celebrates with a day full of rocketry and the stars.

At 10 a.m., launch a soda bottle rocket 300 feet in the air with the nonprofit Machine Science and the Parts and Crafts collective. At noon, go on a virtual tour through the universe using the World Wide Telescope visualization lab at the Harvard Observatory.

Then at 4 p.m., head to the Clay Center Observatory in Brookline to fly indoor kites, look through solar telescopes, enjoy a laser light show, and view the moon and planets.

For grown-ups

Events for adults include panels, lectures, and debates. “Big Ideas for Busy People,” at 7:30 p.m. on April 27 at the First Parish Church in Harvard Square, brings in 10 experts, each with five minutes to tell the audience about a “big idea” — typically an unconventional concept. This year’s topics include longevity, origami, and climate change. The audience has five minutes for questions. A big countdown clock keeps everyone on their toes. “The audience has to step it up,” says d’Arbeloff. “It’s rapid-fire.”

Marian Daniells can be reached at