This blog is an update to Alex's previous blog post. Check out how he's grown the Sidewalk Science Center!
A year ago, on July 11, 2018, I started a science education program called Sidewalk Science Center (SSC) as the first program of my larger science outreach organization, Experience Daliona. SSC is hosted in public parks, typically beside playgrounds, under beach piers, and along college campuses—places that all have their own traffic throughout the day and are accessible to everyone. Lasting three to four hours per session, SSC lets passerby interact with more than a dozen science experiments and learn the scientific concepts behind each!
As a company, Experience Daliona was inspired by my own futuristic science-fiction books, as I wanted to embody the values and ideas I present within them. Now, nearly a year later, SSC has been hosted 73 times up and down the United States’ east coast. This includes three nights of “star parties” that are hosted after SSC ends for the night: I bring out telescopes and let passerby gaze into the night as they learn about the visible planets, constellations, and other celestial objects! Most recently, I stayed out with a group of kids until 11:30 at night watching Jupiter and its four Galilean moons, and showed them the most important stars and constellations that they could use to map the sky. We also tried to catch a glimpse of Saturn; though the clouds ultimately blocked the view, the weekly frequency of SSC and the additional star parties being planned will give us dozens more opportunities to catch the ringed planet as it rises earlier in the night! Many of these kids, and even some teens and parents, have never looked through a telescope before. The shouts of awe when they see Jupiter for the first time is always fun to experience, as they happily point up at that bright light in the sky and eagerly await another turn at the eyepiece.
Many parents I speak with lament the lack of any substantial science curriculum in their children’s schools, a trend I’ve noticed wherever I take SSC. In fact, the county where I currently host a majority of SSC sessions only introduced a STEM curriculum this year, proving the need for structured programs that expose students to scientific concepts outside of classrooms, a reality that is fundamental to the mission of Sidewalk Science Center.
Although children do tend to be the majority of participants at SSC, a good number of teens and adults also stop by. Several families have even come back and told me they crafted some of the experiments at their homes! Then there are the kids who have also participated in SSC multiple times. Some of them have learned the experiments so well, I’ve begun letting them do some of the teaching! It isn’t uncommon to see an eight-year-old excitedly waving around a digital microscope or toy electric rod as they show a bunch of kids how humans can conduct electricity. Now that I’ve brought in the telescope star parties, kids will run off to find their families, then return to give everyone a look through! I’ve also had astronomy enthusiasts in the mix lately, helping work a camera with a sun filter, or getting the telescope aligned when I’m busy with other people. In these moments, SSC takes on a life of its own and proves the ability of communities to come together and enhance the experience for everyone. Now imagine this scene playing out every weekend in cities all around the world…
Experience Daliona has also become involved with a Girl Scouts council and has hosted events at camps in the local area. Most recently, on June 23rd, I had the opportunity to host an SSC session at an event for members of the Planetary Society and NASA at a meetup in Titusville, Florida, to celebrate the LightSail 2 project that was launched on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket the next night.
As Experience Daliona moves forward with developing future programs, and as Sidewalk Science Center is integrated into more local communities and organizations, we’re proving that science-fiction can be used to inspire science-reality in a different way than people may first think. Science-fiction doesn’t have to always be about aliens and technology and far away planets. We can use it to help people discover the science going on all around us right now. As we speed through the cosmos on spaceship Earth, so too can we bring communities together and guide the path of our collective futures here at home. Week after week, the people I meet, the stories I hear, and the laughter and smiles and gasps of wonder and curiosity from people of all ages proves time and time again that though these efforts may seem small to the world overall, they can be giant leap for anyone’s life in the moment.
We have a future to create.
About Alex Martin:
Alex Martin is has published six futuristic science-fiction novels, and is a planetarium presenter and tour guide at the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature in Bradenton, Florida. Outside of writing his seventh novel and hosting Sidewalk Science Center, you'll find him chasing rocket launches, strolling through state parks, and reading science non-fiction books.