The Wisconsin Science Festival has found its “secret sauce.”
“There has to be food, there has to be a lot going on,” said Laura Heisler, director of the statewide festival, which runs from Thursday-Sunday in 60 locations throughout Wisconsin. “That’s our secret sauce — we have just a ton of stuff. It’s all things Wisconsin, some things you know and some you don’t.”
Many of the festival’s events will be held at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, 330 N. Orchard St., in Madison.
The Thursday kick-off will feature “Big Ideas for Busy People,” an event centered on five-minute, rapid-fire presentations from University of Wisconsin-Madison thought leaders like John Hawks, professor of anthropology, who recently made headlines for his early hominid discovery.
“Last year it was standing room only,” Heisler said of the “Big Ideas” event. “It’s well-known scientists doing really edgy stuff.”
Other presentations will come from Jordan Ellenberg, professor of mathematics and author of the New York Times bestseller “How Not to be Wrong,” and Kathy Cramer, professor of political science and director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service.
Another highlight of the festival, according to Heisler, will be Friday night’s “Made in Wisconsin,” an event showcasing Wisconsin-made products, from tools and cheese to beer and salsa.
“There are so many iconic things in Wisconsin, and with the ‘Made in Wisconsin’ theme, we’re trying to have it be a strand through the entire festival,” Heisler said.
“Made in Wisconsin” will include food samplings from Steenbock's on Orchard, Avenue Club and Cento and two presentations, one on the “Science of Manhattans” from cocktail writer André Darlington, and the other on the “Art and Science of Video Games,” presented by Madison’s Raven Software.
On a more serious and controversial note, “Designer Genes: Should We Be Able to Edit Our Genomes?” will be held on Saturday, Oct. 25 from 1:15 to 2:45 p.m.
Heisler said the event exemplifies an aim of the fest: “to not be afraid of some controversial subjects.” She pointed out that an event on GMO crops spurred a heated debate on a festival stage last year.
She said there will not be an event focusing on fetal tissue research, a politically-charged, hot button issue at the UW-Madison at the moment. She called it “a live wire” — but didn’t rule out a conversation on the subject for next year’s event.
“This is a place where we’re going to have a genuine exchange of ideas and bring some diverging viewpoints together,” Heisler said.
Other highlighted events at the festival include “The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boy's Club,” a Wisconsin Book Festival and Wisconsin Science Festival hybrid event, set to be held on Friday, Oct. 23, from 2:30-3:30 p.m. Author Eileen Pollack will speak about her book, "The Only Woman in the Room," which examines the barriers for women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
At “Ebola in Context,” on Saturday, Oct. 24, from 3-4:45 p.m., health experts will “will revisit the Ebola crisis and discuss future global health emergencies,” according to the festival guide.
“Keeping the Great Lakes Great,” Sunday, Oct. 25, 11 a.m. -12 p.m., will “explore examples of water quality and aquatic ecology research being done to ensure that the Great Lakes.”
Overall, Heisler said the goal of the festival is to engage Wisconsinites with science — an especially important endeavor these days, she said, as research sciences have come under recent political fire.
“It’s to get people to really be a part of the process around science, because science is such a public endeavor. We really want it to be a something the public feels engaged with, to know that it’s not just the purview of people in white coats,” she said. “We’re all born scientists.”