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USGS is Valuable Partner in First St. Petersburg, Florida, Science Festival
On April 30, 2011, more than 5,500 visitors of all ages turned out to enjoy the inaugural St. Petersburg Science Festival, an event that explored the world of science while inspiring and informing the public about the role that science plays in society. The festival was held in conjunction with MarineQuest, the annual open house of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, and provided a venue where children and adults could enjoy more than two dozen hands-on activities from various science-related organizations and businesses.
In recent years, large, inspiring celebrations of the fascinating world of science and technology have been popping up across the nation. These science festivals provide new opportunities for scientists and engineers to reach out to the public and showcase what they do, hoping to re-invigorate the declining interest of our Nation's youth and public in science, technology, engineering, and math.
St. Petersburg, Florida, is a natural choice to host such a festival. The city's proximity to Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico makes it a prime spot for marine science, and it is home to a world-class marine-science research community—the largest in the southeastern United States. Located along the waterfront in downtown St. Petersburg, the Marine Science Complex includes multiple federal, state, and local agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations (see related Sound Waves article "USGS St. Petersburg Office Dedicates New Building to Congressman C.W. Bill Young"). This shared complex is conducive to creating multidisciplinary teams of scientists who combine their areas of expertise to focus on issues affecting Florida, the nation, and the world. Several years ago, the leaders of this community began brainstorming the idea of hosting a science festival.
The U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center has been an important partner in the planning and coordination of this festival from the start. Center Director Jack Kindinger and information specialist Ann Tihansky collaborated with Bill Hogarth (former dean of the University of South Florida College of Marine Science [USF-CMS]), Paula Coble (USF-CMS), and Howard Rutherford (The Pier Aquarium) to come up with the initial concept. They continued participating on the steering committee for several years leading up to the inaugural festival. Heather Schreppel and Theresa Burress of the USGS St. Petersburg center were involved in planning the first inaugural event, participating this past spring on multiple committees. Additionally, Schreppel designed the festival's Web site, http://www.stpetescifest.org/.
The inaugural event kicked off on the University of South Florida St. Petersburg's Bayboro Harbor campus with a rousing performance by the Progressive Baptist Missionary Community Church Drumline and Color Guard. City Councilman Karl Nurse spoke about the value of science, technology, engineering, and math as career choices for adolescents, economic engines for the community and the nation, and reliable resources to help both individuals and civic leaders make informed decisions. This event truly met its goal of being an engaging, informative occasion for families and the general public to explore the wonders of science, technology, engineering, and math.
At the festival, USGS scientists and staff contributed through a number of activities. Center Director Kindinger participated as moderator for an oil-spill panel that included Steven A. Murawski, distinguished research professor at the USF-CMS; David Palandro, research scientist with the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute; Bonnie Ponwith, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service's Southeast Fisheries Science Center Director; and Jennifer Miselis, USGS geologist. Miselis discussed the role of USGS scientists as representatives on the Operational Science Advisory Team (OSAT) and in oil-spill-related work in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, USGS oceanographer Lisa Robbins and USGS physical scientist Jamie Cormier, with support from Schreppel and Burress, hosted a booth about ocean chemistry. The booth allowed visitors to get an interactive look at pH, ocean acidification, marine calcifiers (organisms such as corals or clams that build their skeletons or shells from calcium carbonate), global food webs, and carbon cycling, and how all of it relates to human activity. Hands-on activities demonstrated the phenomenon and effects of ocean acidification. Children and adults alike enjoyed the hands-on shell-crushing exercise, in which they gained a better understanding of the biological effects of lower-pH conditions in the oceans by comparing the strength of seashells grown in conditions simulating modern seawater with those grown in seawater with a lower pH. They were also able to observe how much carbon dioxide is produced through human respiration (breathing) by exhaling into a CO2 gas analyzer that showed the amount of CO2 gas expelled in their breath.
The USGS is proud to be part of a vibrant community that came together to celebrate science in St. Petersburg. The exhibitors and sponsors from the community continue collaborating—inspiring young scientists of the future and fostering interest in science that is vital to society. The festival marked another successful collaboration between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, USF-CMS, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, The Pier Aquarium, Draper Laboratory, Eckerd College, USF St. Petersburg, the USGS, the City of St. Petersburg, and Affiliate Partner, The Science Festival Alliance.
More information about the festival can be found at http://www.stpetescifest.org/.
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