At the Mars New Year festival, science educators are doing their best to make learning anything but boring.
Ralph Crewe worked as a professional science communicator at the Carnegie Science Center for 10 years, and is an expert in creating “science stage shows”: live science experiments and demonstrations with flashy elements, such as liquid nitrogen and explosions that make science exciting for kids.
Now, he shares his own brand of science communication on his YouTube channel, “Isn’t That Something.”
The channel interviews scientists and explores science topics that have a wide range, from a history of bridges and what makes carbon an important element to the Cassini–Huygens Saturn space probe.
At the Mars New Year festival, Crewe will share the virtual stage with British science comedy troupe Festival of the Spoken Nerd, who will call in remotely to present a science entertainment demonstration.
“I met (Festival of the Spoken Nerd) at ThinkerCon in Alabama, an event that featured YouTube science education stars,” Crewe said. “When Mike Harvey (of the Mars New Year team) asked me to do a stage show, I wanted to kick it up a notch. I wanted to add an extra level of just awesome, and (Festival of the Spoken Nerd) were very gracious. I’m really thrilled to work with them.”
Crewe will do demonstrations in person at the festival and periodically hand it off to Festival of the Spoken Nerd troupe members Steve Moll and Helen Arney.
“In the world of science education in an informal way, these guys are as good as it gets,” Crewe said.
Helen Arney, one-third of the Festival of the Spoken Nerd team, plans to bring a musical twist to the performance.
“I’m the musical third of Festival of the Spoken Nerd,” she wrote in an email. “I write and perform comedy songs about science and math in our shows, on just about every subject from general relativity to cryonic freezing to singing an entire Googolplex. We never manage to reach the end of that song before the venue closes down and kicks us out.”
Because of the time difference between Mars, Pa., and England, Arney and the rest of the team will be calling in the evening in their time zone.
“I’ll be at home after putting my kids to bed and calling in on video for the show with my trusty ukulele,” she said. “The plan is to sing a lullaby for the Philae Lander and a special version of Tom Lehrer’s ‘Elements’ to celebrate the most abundant elements on the surface of Mars: silicon, oxygen, magnesium and the element that gives the planet its distinctive red color: iron.”
On stage with stars
Crewe is looking forward to bringing his science show to the Mars New Year stage again.
“I really enjoy doing the event at Mars,” he said. “Being part of it is a thrill.”
The event will take up a slot on the main stage at 6:15 p.m. Saturday.
“Later that day, the chief scientists of NASA will be on that same stage,” Crewe said. “As someone who’s a big fan of NASA and science and space, being able to share a stage with some of the legends of NASA is really thrilling.”