VIMS joins forces for state-wide science festival

  • Canoe Trip
    Canoe Trip  Marine educators with the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (CBNERR) at VIMS lead participants on an educational paddle on Taskinas Creek in York River State Park.  Photo by Susan Maples-Luellen
  • "A Scientist Walks into a Bar..."
    "A Scientist Walks into a Bar..."  VIMS Ph.D. student Josh Stone discusses Big Data at Mike's Place in Newport News.  Photo by Erin Fryer
  • Beach Night
    Beach Night  VIMS Outreach Specialist Kattie McMillan demonstrates how to use a seine net to collect marine critters in the York River.  Photo by Erin Fryer
  • Bay Critters Beach Adventure
    Bay Critters Beach Adventure  Participants got to collect and observe marine critters using seine and dip nets during Saturday's event.  Photo by Susan Maples-Luellen
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Hampton Roads offers public events for science lovers

With the help of canoes and glow sticks, people of all ages were introduced to the fun side of science during a series of events hosted by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in honor of the first-ever Virginia Science Festival.

Thousands of families from across the Commonwealth enjoyed interactive experiences during last week’s statewide festival organized by the Science Museum of Western Virginia and Virginia Tech. Regional partners included Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia, Southwestern Virginia, and more.

Beach Night participants spell out the official hashtag for the Virginia Science Festival using glow sticks. Photo by Susan Maples-Luellen.During the festival—which ran from October 4-11th—VIMS hosted several events both on and off its Gloucester Point campus. Several other Hampton Roads institutions also offered events, including the Virginia Air & Space Museum, Virginia Living Museum, Nauticus, and the Virginia Aquarium.

VIMS Outreach Director Susan Maples-Luellen, who served as the festival organizer for the Hampton Roads region, says the festival was created to help foster and encourage public understanding of science and technology by providing the opportunity for Virginians of all ages to interact with real-life scientists. “The festival provides a unique opportunity for families and individuals to come face-to-face with the professionals who are actually doing the research and making the discoveries.”

VIMS kicked off the week on Saturday with a canoe trip on Taskinas Creek at York River State Park near Williamsburg. Along with marine educators at the Chesapeake Bay National Research Reserve (CBNERR) at VIMS, participants got to explore marshes, observe birds and invertebrates, discuss the importance of the marsh habitat, test water quality, and enjoy beautiful scenery.

Michael Finneran of Newport News participated in the paddle and says, "The canoe trip was very educational, and all of the guides were wonderful. It was a very memorable day."A participant uses a refractometer to measure salinity during the canoe trip on Taskinas Creek. Photo by Sarah Nuss.

While many of VIMS’ public programs offered throughout the year cater to families, Tuesday night’s “A Scientist Walks into a Bar…” program was created for an adult audience. Held at Mike’s Place in Newport News, the event offered a casual atmosphere for participants to learn and discuss topics related to Big Data with VIMS Ph.D. student Josh Stone.

While “A Scientist Walks into a Bar…” was happening in Newport News, four other “science pubs” were being offered throughout the state. While all of the events were focused on the overall topic of Big Data, each featured a specialist who focused on a particular type of data. During the event, Stone shared how and where ocean data are collected, VIMS’ role in these efforts, and how scientists use data to answer questions about global change.

As the festival came to an end, VIMS finished off the week with a special installation of its After House Lecture Series on Thursday, a “Beach Night” for adults on Friday, and “Bay Critters Beach Adventure” for families on Saturday.

Offered on the VIMS campus, Beach Night gave adults the opportunity to be kids again by allowing them to collect and observe bay animals by the light of their flashlight.

Participants Richard and Marian Bennett of Williamsburg said they had a great time taking part in the nighttime seining activity. "We enjoyed the full mix of life that was brought from the water to the beach, and we watched in wonder as the critters were spread out before our eyes and then safely returned to the water."

VIMS graduate student Kristene Parsons helps identify critters during the Bay Critters Beach Adventure program. Photo by Susan Maples-Luellen. Similar to the public programs offered at VIMS during the summer months, Bay Critters Beach Adventure offered families the chance to use seine and dip nets to collect, observe, and identify bay animals.

The honorary co-chairs of the Virginia Science Festival were U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. “Inspiring children and families with the wonders of science and exploration in its many forms will have a powerful impact on Virginia’s long-term economic growth and success,” the senators declared in a written statement prior to the festival.

Other festival partners included Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council, Carilion Clinic, Roanoke Valley Conventions & Visitors Bureau, Montgomery County and Roanoke City public schools, the Taubman Museum of Art, and the Science Museum of Virginia.