What does science taste like anyway? Our first city-wide research festival!

What a whirlwind! Our first taste of science Festival just finished up and coming back to reality feels like, well, reality. For the four months we spent planning our festival events it felt like we were in a little bubble living within SSRN.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with taste of science, it is a nation-wide festival that takes place in cities all over the United States. The intention behind it is to take research, which is usually confined to a conference room or lecture hall, and opens it to the public. Festival events are meant to be engaging and social, and attendees are usually pleased with the chance to “feed their curiosity” and have a drink at the same time.

We got involved with taste of science just last summer. We’re always looking for ways to amp up our commitment to researchers and we realized that we had been so focused on global dissemination we had neglected unique possibilities to share research in our own city. Thanks to the awesome team at taste of science we were able to remedy that pretty quickly.

Why the Festival? 

We became aware of the taste of science through its mostly European counterpart, Pint of Science. We found that many of our sister companies were donating money to help make these festivals possible in their home cities. At first we were a little jealous (“how come San Francisco gets a cool science festival and we don’t?”), but that didn’t last long before we realized the possibilities open to us. We decided that if we didn’t have a festival we could donate funds to, we would donate the man-power to make the festival possible.

Although our position is a little bit different from that of most cities, taste of science was supportive and were happy to add Rochester to their map; taste of science explained that SSRN’s relationship to them would be that of a partner. While most companies are listed as sponsors for offering swag, or other items to attendees, SSRN would actually be hosting the festival. I hardly understood what I was getting myself into, but that didn’t stop me from signing up as a City Coordinator.

Why Rochester?

No, Rochester is not New York State’s largest city, but it’s not the smallest either. Rochester boasts a lot of small business and a strong entrepreneurial spirit. It also happens to be home to SSRN headquarters since our inception in 1994. We have a strong connection to Rochester, but what’s more is the fact that Rochester happens to have a lot of innovative research going on behind the scenes.

I could name ten colleges in a reasonable drive time from where I am sitting right now, and still more in the greater Rochester area (I counted and double checked). Rochester also has impressive hospital networks that are vigilant in conducting research. However, unless you are constantly tuned in to the work being done, chances are most of the public, or even academics in unrelated fields, will miss their chances to learn about the innovations.

So, basically, we’re a city of nerds who love a chance to explore new research. There. I said it!

What does a taste of science event look like when SSRN hosts?

As always, we focus on the research first. We put interesting, engaging research at the front of the room. Then, we put a drink in the hand of every person in that room. In true taste of science fashion, we keep the presentation king and the audience hooked.

Our four events featured seven researchers and one unique student research team.

Monday – Preserving the Prehistoric

The Festival kicked off with Jeff Wyatt who captivated the audience with his presentation on how he is working a team to successfully restore a nearly, extinct species, the lake sturgeon, to Rochester’s water ways. Jeff was followed by Dr. Dan Krisher who presented  on what New York State was like 380 million years ago. He stunned us with the humbling knowledge that our great lakes are practically babies being only a few thousand years old! This event featured fossils, courtesy of Dan, and Jeff’s co-presenter, Seth Green, a 6 foot fiberglass lake sturgeon!

Tuesday – Chronic Illness & The Human Computer

Drs. Gordon Broderick and Gary Skuse teamed up to uncover research exploring the human body as if it were a computer. They discussed how “system-failure” can lead to chronic pain and fatigue. Together, they presented research on the complexities of the human immune system.

Wednesday – Biology and the Age of Technology

Did you ever think it was possible to 3D print human tissue? Dr. Fernando Ontiveros-Llamas presented his research on not only making this possible, but on making it affordable!  His presentation on bio-printing changed the way attendees think of the future of medicine.

A team of 8 student researchers followed Fernando with an organ-by-organ tour of the body, discussing how Gulf War Illness, which affects hundreds of thousands of veterans, affects the body. What we found particularly fascinating was the fact that each teammate uncovered the same research using Elsevier’s PathwayStudios individually before collaborating!

Thursday – Music to My Mind: How Music Therapy Works

Mandy Elliot explained how and why music therapy is an effective form of psychotherapy. Her live demonstrations conveyed some of the methods she has helped develop in this field. She discussed the wide range of troubles that music therapy can aid. In a special part of the presentation she was joined by Kim Best, a music therapist who works with patients in hospice care. The contrast provided a fascinating insight into goals for clients and patients to help them manage their unique concerns.

Sooo… how did it go?

A week before the Festival, we seriously doubted the impact we were having, if any. That changed after our first event!

Not only were the audiences attentive and interested, generating good conversation each night, but the presenters were excited to have the opportunity to present in that setting. It was humbling to hear how much they wanted this Festival to succeed, just so we could reach more people next year. We had people come who had seen the Festival done in other cities and were pleased to see Rochester following suit. The overall tone was one of delight that the people of Rochester were able to kick back during the week with some real, mind-testing education. Our local news even chimed in!

Overall, we say it was a success and also a learning experience for any future events we do. We’re thrilled to have done it, and so pleased with the depth of research potential in Rochester, New York!

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