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Inaugural Gulf Coast Science Festival Promotes Exploration Of Science & Technology

The inaugural Gulf Coast Science Festival, presented by the Pensacola MESS Hall, is now underway.

The nine-day event provides a fun way to share science and technology with the community, while also highlighting some of the real-world science that’s taking place locally.

On any given day, you’ll find kids from across the region having fun with science-related activities at the MESS Hall. MESS is an acronym for Mathematics, Engineering, Science and Stuff.

Earlier this week, students on a field trip from Foley Elementary School are getting a feel, moving from station to station.

What happens at science centers like this every day is the inspiration for the area’s first ever Gulf Coast Science Festival.

“It’s really about engaging communities in science, showing the joy of science discovery, an opportunity to reach people who might not come to a museum or such things because it’s not a cultural thing for them, but to just show how much fun science can be,” said Megan Pratt, director of Pensacola MESS Hall, which is presenting the festival.

The local event is made possible in part with support from the Science Festival Alliance and a $10,000 matching grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The grant funding made the science festival feasible. Still, Pratt thought long and hard about taking on such an endeavor, and initially thought about limiting it to just a few events.

“We invited a group of other organization and they and ran with it,” said Pratt, noting how the planners’ excitement expanded the scope beyond what they initially envisioned. “Oh, we could do drones. Well we can’t do drones downtown, we’ll do them at the 4-H Center. Oh, I’d like to show off this.”  

Much like an arts festival, the Gulf Coast Science Festival is a celebration of the sciences.

MESS Hall Marketing Director Tina Inman says locally, there’s a huge amount of scientific research to highlight.

“Whether it’s ecological research, historic archaeology or the biomedical stuff going on up at UWF, there’s a lot of science here in Pensacola,” Inman said. “So, we hope this will broaden people’s horizons on getting to experience it.”

The experience will be enhanced with a number of hands-on activities that are not limited to kids.

“No matter what age you are you’re gonna find something to do at the Gulf Coast Science Festival,” said Sarabeth Gordon, MESS Hall education director.

That will certainly be the case at Expo Day, which is one of the festival’s main events. It’s set for next Saturday, March 17 at Seville Square and will feature a robots, boats, and solar demonstrations.

“We’re going to have IHMC there with some of their submarine and water submersibles, Eglin EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) will be there, Northrup Grumman, 350 Pensacola will be there,” Gordon said. “It’s a way for people to wander around, interact with each one of these booths and tables and do some of the hands-on, talk to the people that do the science in our community, so you can learn what goes on around us.”

The Gulf Coast Science Festival is much like Foo Foo Fest in that it’s inclusive of other related events taking place during its nine-day stretch.

For example, Night of Nature is this Friday evening at 5:30 at the Roy Hyatt Environmental Center in Cantonment.

This month’s Archeo-Café talk by University of West Florida marine archaeologist Greg Cook will be featured; it’s set for Tuesday, Mar. 13, 6 p.m. at Ozone Pizza Pub.

Science Trivia Night will be held on Wednesday, Mar. 14, 7 – 9 p.m. at Goat Lips Chew & Brewhouse.

Also, this month’s Science Saturdays program at the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition will be included. It will be held on Saturday, Mar. 17, beginning at 9 a.m.

At the Extension Service office in Escambia County, final preparations are underway for one of the science festival’s anchor events, the Festival of Flight. Carrie Stevenson is a coastal sustainability agent and a member of the planning committee.

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
Escambia County Extension Director Nick Simmons and coastal sustainability agent Carrie Stevenson are helping to organize the Festival Flight, which is part of the inaugural Gulf Coast Science Festival.

“In the planning phases, we started talking with folks from the National Museum of Naval Aviation,” said Stevenson. “They were saying how much they enjoyed demonstrating flight for people in the community, but it’s difficult to have model planes or drones near the Navy base or near the airport.”

But, Stevenson said there’s plenty of space at their 4-H livestock facility in Molino. So, the Festival of Flight will be held there this Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

There will be demonstrations of drones and large model airplanes, and representatives from Audubon Florida will be on hand to talk about bird flight.

“Yeah, they fight over who has the remote…but, they really enjoy it,” said Escambia County Extension Director Nick Simmons. He’s been teaching 4-H club members about drones, and says he may fly their small unit on Saturday.

“You’ll probably have you know ones a lot bigger ones than this, and ones that may have a lot more features, some that go faster, some that go slower, some have better cameras,” Simmons said. “I know a lot of people like to race the drones and, so that’ll be something interesting to see.’

The Festival of Flight is just one of many activities taking place during the inaugural Gulf Coast Science Festival, and more details are available online at www.gulf-coast-science-festival-dot-org.

Back at the Pensacola MESS Hall, organizer Megan Pratt is already thinking about making this an annual event.

“The response we’ve already received to the event has been very positive and it’s a great part of our community that isn’t usually highlighted,” Pratt said. “I think we have science in the spring and art in the fall; it works well.”

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.