By David Perlman
Chronicle Science Editor
Science is breaking out all over the Bay Area this week as hundreds of scientists at research institutions, laboratories, universities and high-tech companies go public to show adults and kids alike that the scientific world is exciting, fun and well worth exploring.
From Sonoma to San Jose, the Bay Area Science Festival will be marked by dramatic hands-on demonstrations, live experiments, computer games, lectures and guided tours at many labs and open houses at others.
The events begin today and run through next weekend; most are free, but some will take place at institutions like the California Academy of Sciences, the Chabot Science and Space Center, the Exploratorium, Tech Museum in San Jose and the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, where normal admission fees will apply.
The festival, which organizers hope will become an annual event, will peak Saturday with hundreds of free demonstrations and exhibits both indoors and outdoors at the Cal State East Bay campus in Hayward and the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma.
Those two events will be followed the next day by "Discovery Day," a free public celebration at AT&T Park in San Francisco, where 170 colorful exhibits and science games will operate like a super-county fair.
The festival is intended to celebrate how science, engineering and math touch everyone. It is the brainchild of researchers at UC San Francisco, whose Science & Health Education Partnership has been bringing scientists directly into Bay Area elementary school classrooms for years.
It comes at a time when survey after survey by education experts show that science education in America is woefully lacking in elementary schools despite its importance in an increasingly high-tech modern society.
A detailed study, just released by the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley and SRI International concludes, for example, that science education must begin by engaging children from kindergarten on; that few elementary school teachers are equipped to include science in their classes, and that "students do not have the opportunities they need to participate in high-quality science learning experiences."
Festival organizers hope to generate an excitement about science that will stimulate parents, teachers and young adults to demand science teaching that will capture the minds of children so that they will learn to ask questions and seek answers by experimenting with the world around them, said Rebecca Smith, co-director of Science & Health Education Partnership.
Among the festival events starting this afternoon, UC scientists will talk about the science of food at the Albany Farmer's Market from 3 to 7 p.m. by showing how worms produce the compost that enrich food crops, and how plants manage to grow in varied environments and produce everyday vegetables.
In another event, UC Berkeley astronomer Alex Filippenko will speak on "Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe." The lecture at San Francisco's main library from 6:15 to 7:30 p.m. is free.
This year's Nobel Prize in physics was awarded earlier this month to Berkeley astrophysicist Saul Perlmutter and teams from Johns Hopkins University and the Australian National University for the discovery of how dark energy accelerates the universe.
For information about the various science events around the Bay Area: www.bayareascience.org/festival