Atlanta Science Festival kicks off with a bang Friday


Science: It’s never out of style.

The Atlanta Science Festival, two weeks of mind-expanding events, begins Friday with a gathering at Georgia Tech’s Ferst Center called “Rise Up, Robots!”

The special human guest of this kick-off event is TED lecturer and roboticist Heather Knight, who has reassuring words for those concerned about the coming robot revolution: It’s already happened.

“We are all cyborgs,” said Knight, a professor at Oregon State University. “We’re completely co-dependent on machines. We couldn’t do our jobs — and 40 percent of marriages wouldn’t happen — without them.”

The Atlanta Science Festival continues for 15 days, with lectures, demonstrations and performances, and culminates March 24 in an Exploration Expo finale at Piedmont Park, where more than 100 interactive booths will drop knowledge on thousands of curious visitors.

The Science Fest has expanded over the last few years to venues all over metro Atlanta, spilling over into an extra week and upping the ante on events that combine creativity and calculus.

Check out a small sampling of the activities in the first weekend:

High Road Craft Ice Cream will demonstrate the science of ice cream at their Marietta plant; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday; 1730 West Oak Commons Ct., Marietta; free with advance registration.

•Adults who enjoy wine and snakes can check into “Critters and Cabernet,” a hands-on lesson in reptile ecology, with vintage refreshments, hosted by the Amphibian Foundation, 7-9 p.m. Saturday, March 10; $5; Amphibian Foundation: 4055 Roswell Rd.

•Families can visit the High Museum to learn how Dutch designer Joris Laarman used robots, digital printers, algorithms and the patterns of bone growth to design his furniture, at the “Joris Laarman Lab: Design in the Digital Age” exhibit; 1-4 p.m, Sunday, March 11; free; 1280 Peachtree St.

Artificial intelligence, space exploration, the chemistry of wetlands, the physics of taste buds are other topics that will be explored. The world of the scientific method accompanies us in every moment of our daily lives, whether we notice it or not. The organizers of the festival have staged a wide assortment of events to emphasize this ubiquity.

Robots and humor

For example: robots. They are all over the place. Your dishwasher (which responds to commands and analyzes changing conditions), is a robot, said Knight. We just don’t call it that anymore.

Knight performs with Data, a stand-up comedian robot that has learned to read audiences. On Friday, she’ll be joined by a jazz-marimba-playing robot called Shimon, created by Gil Weinberg, professor and founding director of the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, and by Stewart Coulter, an engineer and builder of a bionic/robotic/prosthetic arm.

Related: Tech engineers build drummer a robotic arm

Why teach robots comedy? “It’s useful to have robots be more entertaining,” said Knight. “It makes them more fun to have around.”

“Rise Up, Robots!” 7-8:30 p.m., Friday, March 9; $15, Ferst Center for the Arts, 349 Ferst Drive, on the Georgia Tech campus.

Monster movies and chemistry

Expect a little more razzle-dazzle at the Silver Scream Science Spook Show, a special edition of the well-loved variety act that often performs at the Plaza Theatre.

With two shows at the Plaza Theatre on March 17, the misfit ensemble gives us song, dance, magic and monsters, followed by crash-landing alien eyeballs in the classic 1953 horror film “It Came from Outer Space.”

Among the performers at the Spook Show will be Jennifer Leavey, a senior academic professional in the School of Biology at Georgia Tech, whose alter ego is rock star Leucine Zipper, a genetically modified scientist. (The name is a biochemistry joke about a certain protein structure.)

Her band, the Zinc Fingers, includes organic chemist Michael Evans, amphibian ecologist Joe Mendelson and biologist Ben Prosser, all Georgia Tech faculty or alumni. Their poppy, punk music rocks hard and also imparts a few lessons. “I try to write songs so that you can enjoy them without knowing anything about science, but if you happen to learn some science along the way, so much the better,” said Leavey.

Silver Scream Science Spook Show, 12:30-3 p.m., plus a midnight show, March 17; $10, $7 children; Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce De Leon Ave.

Human drum machine

Where is the line between the man and the sequencer? Deantoni Parks, musician, composer and percussion prodigy, will present a special performance and conversation March 16, called “Technoself,” about augmented human abilities and the balance between the computer and the mind.

A Newnan native, Parks has performed with the monstrously challenging prog rock band Mars Volta and is currently touring Europe with Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale. He has distinguished himself by expertly recreating electronic drum tracks, playing seemingly impossible rhythms in real-time on his trap set.

“Machines have influenced me as a drummer, but I also despise them,” said Parks, in a telephone call from London. Yet he performs alongside machines, matching them quantum for quantum.

“To keep the beats with a machine, you have to be on their playing field,” said Parks. “I’ve adjusted my philosophy. Now I’ve looked at the body as a processor. I’m using my non-conscious side as well, because the non-cognitive side of us does so much work for us that we’re oblivious to. I let my brain and my body and the non-cognitive part of what the body does — I let them shine in that moment.”

Deantoni Parks and “Technoself,” 8-10 p.m., March 16; $10, $7 advance; Red Light Cafe, 1 Amsterdam Ave., Atlanta.

For more information: atlantasciencefestival.org/



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