The Annual Week o’Science

Vacation time again! And naturally once again this year I volunteered for the World Science Festival in New York City. I wish that I could just be the kind of person that could do nothing for a whole week and just go lay on a beach somewhere but I’d go insane without something to do.

It’s really a wonderful event to be a part of. Let’s face it, Orillia is not exactly a town full of readers and especially not readers of science. There are way too many people who believe the woo that is on Oprah and the like. There are the few that have watched things like Cosmos and who watched Bill Nye in school…that’s really as far as it goes.  So it is really a cool experience to be able to go to an event like this, where you can have an *actual* conversation with people who know the same authors and communicators, all speak the same lingo and to meet all these new people. And to also see all those in charge of not only the festival, but also the venues every year!

That being said….I am not taking Greyhound to NYC anymore. Never have I experienced two more uncomfortable bus rides in my life as the trip down and back this year. Amtrak next year I think. Twelve hours crammed into full capacity buses was not my idea of a good time. And the border going down was awful. I — am not exactly high on what could be considered the “list of suspicious people to profile list”. Hi, over forty Canadian and pretty much as Caucasian as you can get. Here’s how my border experience went down this year:

Border Guard: Why are you traveling to the States?

Me: I’m seeing some sights and volunteering for The World Science Festival

BG: Are you getting any remuneration for that?

Me: No, they throw a volunteer party at the end of the week. I have all my information for my stay and my itinerary right here…

BG: *stares at me* You’re traveling from Canada to do this? What did you say it was called?

Me: Yes…The World Science Festival.

BG: *typing on a computer* And who runs it.

Me: The World Science Festival…..

BG: I don’t know…this sounds a little borderline. I think you need a visa for this.

Me: I haven’t had an issue before with coming down for it.

BG: Before you come down to do this again, you had better look into this more.

It felt really tense, but they let me across the border. I was uncertain for a minute if that was going to be the case.  Can’t be sure if it was the volunteering he took issue with or the science part. lol. And missing the festival would have sucked. Finally made it to the city at around 7:30am on Wednesday morning and I was fairly exhausted. Got checked in at the hostel at 103rd and Amsterdam, a short nap and hot shower later I felt like heading up to Community Food & Juice for a really good breakfast. Afterwards, a bit of wandering about and then the subway down to volunteer headquarters to get my credentials. Then a light supper and early to bed and watching a bit of the WSF live stream before I couldn’t stay awake anymore.

Thursday was museum day for me so I spent the vast majority of the afternoon in the American Museum of Natural History and the Rose Center for Earth and Space (NdT’s hood). Saw Dark Universe again and the short thing in the Hayden Big Bang theatre that Liam Neeson narrated. Spent as much time there as I could before my first volunteer shift which was a conversation between Alan Alda and Tina Fey. Alan runs a centre teaching scientists to be better communicators using things like improv. They brought Brian Greene up on stage for a “spontaneous” to explain scientific concepts to Tina and she’d buzz him when he said something he did not understand.

I have to digress for a moment for those people who might not know who Brian Greene is (and what is wrong with you?). One of my favourite authors and speakers, wonderful communicator of difficult concepts in science, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University and co-founder of The World Science Festival with his wife, Tracy Day.  He’s brilliant. I took his online class at World Science U and he’s one of those people who even through the screen, you feel like you are having a conversation. I don’t get fannish very often but Professor Greene is one person I’ve wanted to meet for ages. Side story — I made one of my funny little Twitter jokes to him indicating he should really hire me as his PA, random dude thought that I worked for him already. I advised him that while I run the profile for him, I have never met Professor Greene. At that moment, the man in question tweeted me that if I were volunteering this year, he and I would definitely meet. 🙂

We’ll come back to that.

Friday morning was an early day working the Pioneers of Science event with a room full of incredibly smart teenagers. Gives one a great deal of hope about the future. The event featured Jane Lubchenko (head of NOAA during the Deepwater Horizon disaster) and Aprielle Ericsson (the first African-American female to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Howard University and the first African-American female to receive a Ph.D. in Engineering at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center). Both were incredibly inspiring. I had gotten caffeined up and worked some lighting cues for the experiment portions of the event (had one or two totally unexpected ones thrown my way as well so that was bumpy) and wrangled people in the lobby.  Mike, Jack and Kim that worked the NYU Global Center were *amazing*. Hopefully, I get to work with them again next year. And you know that no matter what I say, I’m going to at least *some* of the festival every year that’s possible.

Had the rest of the day free so I thought I’d go back to the museum, was there for a bit and in the Cuba special collection when I got an email that there was availability to see Sylvia Earle’s keynote. Really short notice so I hopped a cab to get there. Made it just in time to get seated. Turns out that Brian Greene was introducing her and then he came and sat in the row behind me. Not distracting at all, lol. And for the 2nd day in a row I did not have the opportunity to introduce myself to Brian.  Since I wasn’t far away, I spent some time at The Strand book store (nerd Disneyland) and went to Joe’s for some NY pizza. Yum!  🙂

Saturday….I came down with a bit of a sinus cold which happens when I get really sleep deprived sometimes. Had some momentary guilt over lazing about in bed until I reminded myself that I am on vacation. I had a ticket to Brian’s event that night “Science in a Polarized World”. Paid a visit to the drug store for tissue and drugs so that I wouldn’t sneeze my way through the night. The panel really made me think and it might result in a new site going up on some of the topics. It gave me a great deal to think about. After the event I stopped near the stage because I had to finish the questionnaire in my program. And…Brian stopped at the stage edge to answer a couple of questions. But right at the exact moment there was a break in the conversation and I was going to say hi, he had to dash off.

Sunday was a BIG day. Got up at around 5:30 am so that I could get checked out, stow my bags in a locker downstairs and head downtown as my shift started at 8am.  Went to volunteer command and got handed a clipboard then went in search of the freight elevator and loading dock to advise vendors what floor to go to for Ultimate Science Sunday. Then floated the floors for an hour making sure everything was ok. At 11am that shift was over but volunteer command needed help with lunches so I put in time there after getting coffee. Scarfed down some lunch with some volunteers from the city and then went to my next scheduled shift back at the Grand Hall with Jack and Kim.  This one was a Salon and I went out to stand on the street, directing people around to the entrance. It was *cold* and rainy so I added a slight cough to my mild cold….yay.

Headed upstairs when the event had started and went in to watch. About 10 minutes after I got there…guess what. Yeah, Brian Greene came in and sat down pretty much in front of where I was standing. Being the last day…I was not going to allow this opportunity to elude me.  I knew he would leave when Q&A started so I left just before he did to have the opportunity to say hello and introduce myself. He thanked me for volunteering and we talked briefly about his profile and a few other things. I have to say this…he is incredibly sweet to take a moment out of what is probably a crazy schedule. And he takes a legitimate interest while  talking. It’s that quality that translates right through the screen when he’s teaching on World Science U. (He’s also very charming and incredibly handsome. And yes…perhaps he is the subject of a little nerdcrush on my part.)

Finished up at the Salon at around 3pm so I had time to walk outside to a coffee shop for a tea and doughnut break before heading to Skirball to work with Julianne and Suchan again as Front of House/Hospitality.  Was ushering this year, watched most of the neuroscience panel but ducked out early to go to help out in the Green Room. We tidied up a bit and waited for the event to end and I escorted some of the speakers to their cars. Once that got taken care of, it was time for the volunteer party!

While I did not win anything in the raffle, got to eat pizza and chat with some of the volunteers I worked with like Cassie and Winnie. And we all got little swag bags.  Brian and Tracy dropped in to thank the volunteers so I could finally go a little fan girl and get my picture taken with Brian. He then asked me jokingly if he’d kept his promise.  🙂

After the party, I went to collect my bags and head to the Port Authority to hang out for a couple of hours, waiting for my 12:30 am bus (someone remind me to NEVER do that again).  The bus was packed the whole way and I have never been so happy to see Toronto in my life. Checked in at the hostel and was able to have a shower and a little nap before heading out to dinner and then to see Lawrence Krauss give a talk and then a conversation with Matt Dillahunty.  Those who know me, know my long standing love for Professor Krauss.  Brilliant, funny, patient and incredibly nice. I don’t think I would have ever developed an interest and passion for science had it not been for him. Waited around and got my copy of my book signed and exchange a few words with him. By then I was completely devoid of energy and could not wait to go to bed. Shame…I keep wanting to take him out and get him drunk.  🙂  Was not to be this time however.

Whew…almost as tiring to blog about than it was to actually do. And yet, I can’t wait to do it again!



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