Making Science Cool: Inspiring Students and Giving Society Something to Celebrate


Just a few days before we kicked off the month-long San Diego Science Festival in March, I wrote a post for the Xconomist Forum that concluded, “if we mean to achieve the essential goal of reviving American Science, the San Diego Science Festival is poised to provide an important start.”

It proved to be a daunting task: 30 days; 350 collaborating organizations; 500 free events; 200,000 participants. So, what did I learn from spearheading this event? (More on that later.) And why am I taking on an even larger initiative—the creation of the first National Science Festival in Washington D.C.?

One reason is because it matters. It matters because scientific breakthroughs are crucial to our innovation economy. It also matters because our leadership in science and technology innovation is central to the way we view ourselves as Americans. From Ben Franklin to Thomas Edison and Burt Rutan, we see ourselves as ingenious, entrepreneurial, independent, and inventive.

Our goal for the inaugural San Diego Science Festival was to celebrate science with a science party because—to quote inventor, entrepreneur and FIRST Robotics founder Dean Kamen—“Society gets what it celebrates.” What he means is that if scientists are perceived as boring and science careers as dull, Nobel Laureates can’t compete with rock stars or sports heroes in the minds of our nation’s youth. But if scientists are perceived as cool and sexy, then perhaps our next generation can see science careers as a way to improve the world. So our goal was to create the festival as a fun opportunity for our community and or city to come together to discover, explore, discuss, be amazed, and be inspired.

We modeled the San Diego Science Festival after popular science festivals in Europe and Australia. These festivals last seven to fourteen days, and draw between 100,000 and 1 million people to celebrate science through inspiring lectures, hands-on activities and exhibits, contests, theatre, comedy, poetry, art, film, and music—all celebrating science.

To make a lasting impression among San Diego’s youth, our month-long festival rolled out in a progression:

—First, we brought scientists to … Next Page »

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Larry Bock, a biotech entrepreneur and San Diego venture investor, is the founder and organizer of the USA Science & Engineering Festival, set for Washington DC in April 2012. Follow @

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One response to “Making Science Cool: Inspiring Students and Giving Society Something to Celebrate”

  1. Thanks Larry for all of your drive in 2009. As SD Science Festival Marketing Director, we are pleased to be continuing the work with San Diego to help improve on what was done last year and make this year even better.

    Anyone interested in more information on San Diego Science Festival 2010 check our website at, or @sdsciencefest on twitter, or find us on Facebook. We’re excited to keep the momentum going into 2010 and also excited to see how the National Festival in D.C. unfolds. Two great wins for Science!