Dayton Regional Science Festival opens worlds of possibilities

By Katrina Eresman
Photo: “Even if you’re 2 or 102, you’re going to take something away from the science festival,” -Blaire Bartish

Your teacher just told you to get out a pencil. It’s time for your science test. Your hands get clammy as you clear your desk and glance around the room, wondering if your peers are feeling as jittery as you. You studied, sure, but you’re not cut out to be a scientist—this subject is so hard, it’s scary!

Does this bring back memories of your childhood school days? If so, you’re not alone. It’s not uncommon to feel a little intimidated by science. And the real, hardcore proponents of the subject know this.

They also know it doesn’t have to be this way. Which is one reason they started the Dayton Regional Science Festival, an event imagined by the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery with a goal of bringing STEM learning down to an approachable level for all ages. STEM careers, that is, science, technology, engineering and math, have always been prominent in Dayton. The Wright Brothers had their airplane, Charles Kettering had his 186 patents, James Ritty invented the cash register and some day it’s likely that some of the visitors of the Dayton Regional Science Festival will carry on this Dayton tradition of innovation.

That’s the kind of thinking the science festival hopes to inspire. Science is for everyone, once you find your niche in an endless sea of options.

From tricky to trendy

From New York to Colorado to North Carolina, science festivals are popping up everywhere. Museums, universities and other pro-STEM organizations began creating events meant to showcase many of the different branches of science and technology. In 2010, the Boonshoft thought it was time for Ohio to play a part in the movement.

“That’s a lot of what we do here day to day, so the concept of the science festival made perfect sense,” says Kristy Creel, one of the key organizers at the Boonshoft. “This is the fifth year for the festival. It’s kind of a trend nationwide…this trend into making science and STEM learning more accessible.”

After some good planning, brainstorming and conversing within the community, the first Dayton Regional Science Festival (DRSF) was born.

“It’s like a big science party,” says Blaire Bartish, manager of school and public programs at the Boonshoft, who began planning for this year’s festival in February.

Planning involves reaching out to inventors, creators, builders, thinkers and the like within the community who might be interested in partnering with the Boonshoft and becoming part of the DRSF family. Then, the partners plan the coolest STEM show-and-tell presentation they can think of.

In the past, the festival has held events all around the Dayton area. This year, the organizers are bringing it back to basics, and keeping all of the festivities under the Boonshoft roof. There, attendees can discover a number of unique interactive booths that are geared to present science in a way that’s accessible to all.

“Science can be such a, not threatening, but overwhelming concept,” says Bartish. “[But] science is not scary, science is a lot of fun, science is also very broad.”

This year, the Boonshoft is bringing more than twice as many partners as last year.

The festival is on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 6-7. Friday is for schools only, and Saturday is open to the public, with free admission from
10 a.m.-3 p.m. Several schools from around the area will get a chance to preview what the festival has to offer. And, hopefully, many of them will be back with their families on Super Science Saturday.

From child to parent

This is the first time that Boonshoft will open its doors free of admission to the public for the science festival. Bartish and Creel hope that this, in combination with Friday’s field trips, will encourage more families to come.

While a lot of what the different partners bring is geared toward children, the festival tries to reach out to the parents, too. The activities are designed to bring awareness to people of all ages. The more science is on the mind of a parent or guardian, the more likely it is to become a conversation.

“The kids can pick up on an adult who isn’t very certain,” Creel explains. “They may not want to help their child with their homework because they don’t know the answer.”

Just being in a position of learning with their kids might make the long-forgotten subjects feel more accessible. And when parent and child are both poised for exploration, everybody wins.

“I’m really excited for it because it’s a way for parents and kids to get engaged with scientists at the same time,” Bartish says. “And then what we’re hoping is that once they leave that, they’ll be able to have those conversations in their own family unit.”

From 2 to 102

Even if you don’t have kids, a visit to the science festival comes highly recommended. Bartish recently went solo to check out the Indianapolis Science Festival, which is built on the same principal—to make STEM learning more accessible to children and adults. And while it, like the DRSF, was made up of exhibits geared toward the young ones, Bartish enjoyed herself.

“Even if you’re 2 or 102, you’re going to take something away from the science festival,” Bartish says.

Indeed, there will be plenty to talk about at the dinner table. With so many new partners, this year’s science festival will be full of surprises for everyone. Favorites from years before will be there to arouse intrigue in the mind. Robots and 3D printers—and possibly slime—will be involved.

For instance, Yaskawa Motoman Robotics will bring a “really cool industrial robot,” says Dustin Engle, the Yaskawa Motoman representative for the DRSF. According to Engle, students in the past have been blown away by robotic demonstrations.

“Kids have unlimited imagination,” he says. “It is fascinating to listen to them describe what they would do with a robot.”

Tinkr Tech will provide the 3D printer.

“Everybody loves watching a 3D printer work,” says Bryan Adams, founder of Tinkr Tech. “We talk about its uses and where it’s used in industry and how it works.”

Adams also brings Little Bits, what he describes as “electric legos,” circuits which can make something like a simple flashlight, as well as some old junk for gutting.

“[Last year we brought] a printer and an old laptop to tear apart,” Adams says. “Most people don’t know what the insides of these things look like, so we had those just out so kids could explore and dig into them and see what makes them tick.”

Dayton Power & Light seeks to raise awareness of energy efficiency. Using a hand crank to generate electricity, “Festival goers could feel the difference in electricity required to light up an inefficient incandescent light bulb versus an efficient compact fluorescent and LED light bulb,” explains Kara McMillen of DP&L.

Staying true to the festival’s goals, DP&L also seeks to create a bridge between various age groups when it comes to learning. The company brings in Oakwood High School students to help run the booth and interact with the kids.

“With a ‘kids teaching kids’ model at our table, the high school student leaders can practice instruction and leadership, and the younger students can learn something new from student role models,” McMillen says. “Subsequently, the younger students become models themselves and apply their learning in everyday life.”

Back to basics

During your visit, you can’t forget to pay attention to the Boonshoft’s regular features. If you’re looking for a more adult-oriented exhibit, Creel recommends checking out the new “Exoplanets Exhibit,” an exhibit that explores more than 1,500 extrasolar planets.

The Fraze Gallery, a smaller gallery upstairs, is also somewhat geared toward older visitors. The exhibitions change every year.

As of October, the Fraze Gallery houses a textile exhibition called “Cut from the Same Cloth,” which explores “everything from wool [to] silk and how [different textiles] affected humanities growth and development over the years,” Creel explains.

There’s one other permanent room that’s always worth a stop, no matter what the visitor’s age: the African Room.

“We have the African Room, where we have the mummy that’s been on display since, I think, 1927 in one form or fashion or another,” Creel says. “But it’s a real mummy. We get that question a lot.”

“It’s over already?!”

Bartish remembers witnessing students leave last year’s science festival, delighted and excited.

“We had a student who, they were all walking out the door, this kid was like “It’s over already?! I don’t want to leave, I want to stay longer!’”

When the Dayton Regional Science Festival is over for the year, if all goes as planned, then the learning’s just begun. The curiosity follows the kids out the exit, and the education continues, at home or at school.

Last year, Teresa Nichols brought 34 of her sixth graders from the Morton Middle School Science Club to the Boonshoft for the science festival.

“The students enjoyed making connections and sharing what they experienced with their families,” she says. “As a teacher, I am thrilled to see my students engaged, ignited and motivated to discover and learn more about science, technology, engineering and mathematics in our daily life and their future career choices.”

Creel adds, “Students that have a strong background in the sciences and math are going to be the ones that are positioned well for the jobs that are going to be available in 10, 20, 30 years.”

Extracurricular science programs such as the DRSF are beginning to permeate the area, and the country. This is nothing but good news, as STEM careers are the fastest growing careers in the US. Programs like these can help set up the interest.

“If you can get them, at this age, excited and enthusiastic about this kind of learning, then they’ll take classes that support it and then they’ll be able to make decisions later with enough information,” Creel says.

Introducing ourselves and our youth to STEM subjects as approachable and fun topics is one of the best things we can do for the younger generation. Engle at Yaskawa Motoman says it best: “These kids are our future, the investments we make in them now will keep Dayton innovative well into our next generation.”

The Dayton Regional Science Festival takes place Friday and Saturday, Nov. 6-7. The festival is open to the public on Saturday only, at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, 2600 Deweese Pkwy in Dayton. Admission is free from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday. For additional information, please visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Katrina Eresman at

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