A bittersweet festival on World Science Day

When I began doing Sidewalk Science Center in July, I never really planned to leave Savannah. Sidewalk Science Center began here. It wouldn't just vanish. It couldn't. But it is, and I have to accept that now, because I have the opportunity to grow Experience Daliona and Sidewalk Science Center beyond what Savannah can currently allow.

November 10th is World Science Day, and this year, I hosted what was to be the final Sidewalk Science Center in Savannah. The sun was shining, the air was only a little chilly - warm in the sun, cold in the shadows - and the local farmer's market was a few hundred yards up the path from where I always set up SSC. It was 10am, and I only planned to stay three hours, like usual. But today proved to be unusual.

And I took advantage of it.

The first participants of SSC World Science Day 2018!

When I began SSC in July, I would see anywhere from 50-100 people stop to participate every hour. All through July, I was easily hitting 200-300 people per weekend. Then school started in August, and the traffic dropped to around 1/5th that. HUGE change. You could see the impact tourist season had! So in the first month alone, I'd seen 1,000 people come through, and then it took another two months, between mid-August and the end of September, to hit 2,000.

Then I slogged through October, traveling up to Chapel Hill, NC for a second time to host it at UNC Chapel Hill. So by the end of October, having struggled with a few rainy weeks within, I'd only had another couple hundred people in total stop by the table.

And then World Science Day happened.

I'm not sure I actually expected the turnout I got. Like usual, I didn't announce it, I hadn't coordinated with the farmer's market or the news stations. I just went out, set up the table, and let the people flow through.

Within minutes, the first group stopped. I think there were six or seven of them in all. That group standing near the table stayed for about 15 minutes, I think, and then went on their way, but by then, another group had replaced them.

It's generally slow in the beginning of the day. Honestly, when the first group leaves, there's usually not another waiting, and it can be 10-20 minutes before someone else shows up. But for the duration of SSC on World Science Day, I'm not sure if there was ever a time a group of people wasn't at Sidewalk Science Center, except for a stretch of 10 minutes when I took down the sign so I could get a drink and record for Instagram.

At one point in the day, I had upwards of 40 people surrounding the table, but for most of the time, there was always about 15 or so. Cycling through every 15 to 20 minutes, new faces of children, teens, adults, and families constantly surrounded me, doing the science experiments for themselves, recording their own videos, meeting total strangers as they laugh in amazement or frown quizzically together. Sidewalk Science Center does that every day I'm out there: builds a community.

As the hours slipped by, some of the same people came back to try out the experiments again, or to get pictures with the table or me. By the time I left, the sun had completely crossed the sky and begun to set. I'd been out there from 10am to 3:30pm, and honestly, every fiber of me wanted to stay until it began getting dark. But I had places to be and people to meet, so I couldn't.

One day, however, I hope I can stay out the entire day. Sidewalk Science Center is incredibly rewarding. Seeing dozens of people experience something new for the first time gives you a feeling like no other, a sense of pride for introducing them to these amazingly simple phenomena in our world, and a sense that you're doing something incredibly important, that you could be changing lives. Lots of people purchase digital microscopes right there on the spot, so obviously they were turned on to something during their experience.

World Science Day left me feeling bittersweet. I loved that day, being able to meet literally hundreds of new people and share a few educational minutes with them. But it was also the last time I'd be hosting Sidewalk Science Center in Savannah, and I don't know when SSC will return to this city. I hope, with all my heart, it's soon, because this is exactly the thing Savannah needs in its public spaces. People from all over the world have participated, and their support and appreciation has been overwhelmingly positive.

I hosted this mini science festival with no outer support, no funding, no advertising. I just took my table and science experiments and let people find SSC like they normally do. So now imagine what we could do, if we had a network of Sidewalk Science Center's all around the world, engaging 100 people per day.

We could literally inspire thousands, if not millions of people. Not every year. Every weekend.

Imagine what that future could hold.

To all our endeavors.

Alex Martin


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