Science is fun and should be accessible to everyone – plus, there are many interesting scientific happenings on the Colorado Plateau – according to organizers of the first-ever Moab Festival of Science, scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 22, through Sunday, Sept. 25.
“It’s going to be amazing, with a series of free events over the weekend,” said Sasha Reed, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Moab. “The purpose is to bring the wonder and joy of science to everybody.”
The festival will address many different branches of science – ecology, fisheries biology, geology, paleontology, soil science, astronomy, environmental remediation and botany – with presentations, tours and nature walks scheduled throughout the weekend.
A tour of dinosaur tracks, a star party with several telescopes and an afternoon of hands-on science activities are just a few of the events, said Theresa McHugh, a former post-doctoral researcher at USGS in Moab and a colleague of Reed.
McHugh, who now teaches biology at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado, proposed the idea of a Moab science festival after participating in Flagstaff, Arizona's Festival of Science for many years.
“We found inspiration from the Flagstaff festival – one of the longest-running science festivals in the country,” McHugh said.
Moab quickly jumped on board with the idea, drawing scientist participation from the Bureau of Land Management, USGS, National Park Service, Dark Skies Initiative, Museum of Moab, the Utah Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Reed, who advised McHugh during her year-and-a-half research stint in Moab, taught a “Science for Guides and Educators” program with McHugh last spring at Star Hall.
“They were (four) short talks on cutting-edge science on the Colorado Plateau,” Reed said. “It was awesome. We get great questions.”
The program, which Reed has taught for a few years, also helped inspire the idea of a science festival in Moab.
“We shared regional science with recreation guides, who then had the capacity to share the information with thousands of tourists each year,” McHugh said. “We found a tremendous amount of interest.”
Moab’s inaugural science festival kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 22, at 6 p.m. with an astronomy presentation titled “Journey through the Stars” by Seth Jarvis, director of Salt Lake City’s Clark Planetarium. This event takes place at the Moab Information Center, which is located at the corner of Main and Center streets.
On Friday, Sept. 23, from 10 a.m. to noon, there will be guided tours of the DOE’s Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Project site. Later in the day, at 4 p.m., Bob Scarborough will give a “Geology of the Colorado Plateau” talk at Star Hall, 159 E. Center St.
Saturday’s agenda includes story time at the Grand County Public Library with Melissa Marsted, author of the “Buzzy the bee” series; hands-on science activities and demonstrations at Sun Court; desert fish and aquatic exhibits at Rotary Park; and, at 5:30 p.m., a “Moab Mingle” social hour at the Museum of Moab, 118 E. Center St.
Saturday evening’s keynote speaker is Karla Eitel, director of education for the University of Idaho College of Natural Resources and the McCall Outdoor Science School. She’ll be speaking at Star Hall at 6:30 p.m. about the links between science, education and spending time in the natural world.
Later, at the Moab Brand Trails parking area off U.S. Highway 191 about 8 miles north of Moab, people are invited to look through telescopes and learn about constellations from park rangers and the SLC planetarium director.
On Sunday, paleontologist ReBecca Hunt-Foster will talk about geology and paleontology at the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite, 10:30 a.m. to noon.
From 3 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Kara Dohrenwend will give a “Native Plants of the Colorado Plateau” presentation at the Mayberry Native Plant Propagation Center, mile marker 15.5 on state Route 128.
The day concludes with a plant and biological soil crust identification walk through Mill Creek Canyon, starting at 3 p.m.