By David Perlman
Chronicle Science Editor
For kids or adults who think science is mainly about textbooks and memorizing, the third annual Bay Area Science Festival, which opens this week, may get them to think again.
The 10-day celebration, which opens Thursday at sites all over the Bay Area, is designed to offer both students and their families far more spectacular routes to understanding what science is all about.
Drones and balloons will fly, museums and labs will open their doors, astronauts will describe the mysteries of space, and earthbound scientists will discuss their own professional challenges and discoveries. There will be hundreds of games, demonstrations, films, talks, stage shows and dramatic lab experiments.
Farmers markets will explore the science of growing and eating vegetables and cheeses, while exhibits exclusively for grown-ups will ponder the cocktail, tasting permitted.
The festival's biggest venues occur on different days - at AT&T Park, at the Sonoma County fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, and at California State University East Bay in Hayward. At each site, children and their families will be able to sample open-air exhibits, performances, games, and even explosive demonstrations from science-based institutions and companies.
Inspired by scientists at UCSF, the festivals expect at least 75,000 people to attend, said Kishore Hari of the UCSF science education staff, and the coordinator of the varied events.
The festivals, Hari said, are funded by $480,000 in grants from the National Science Foundation, major private foundations, and science-based industries with roots in the Bay Area.
Most of the festival's events are free, but some - particularly those planned for adults only - have admission charges.
No events are scheduled for kids on Thursday and Friday, the festival's opening days. But adult affairs will include evening events and a bar at the Exploratorium in San Francisco; a Friday lecture in Berkeley by famed gene hunter J. Craig Venter; and a "Sinful Science" program featuring wine, coffee, beer and chocolate at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland.
The festival's first two big Discovery Days will occur on Saturday and Sunday at the Sonoma Fairgrounds and the Cal State campus in Hayward. Up to 10,000 visitors are expected at each, the organizers said.
North Bay Discovery Day attractions on Saturday will include eating liquid nitrogen ice cream and observing sunspots through the Robert Ferguson Observatory's telescope near Kenwood. The primary focus will be on capturing kids' imaginations.
In Hayward on Saturday, the draws will include a chemistry magic show, a telescope for observing sunspots, computer simulations of the human body and its ailments, fossils for casting, a statistics "fun house" and a psychology "playground."
The festival will end with San Francisco's Discovery Day on Nov. 2 at AT&T Park. Up to 30,000 adults and kids will find science-based games, costumes and displays of science tools. Dozens of scientists will be on hand to answer questions.
UCSF chancellor Jeffrey Bluestone noted that the Bay Area boasts some of the best science and scientists in the world, and their work displayed during the festival can be a fantastic asset in exciting young people about the sciences.
"It's not necessarily for the kids to become scientists themselves," Bluestone said, "but because science is so important in their daily lives - whether it's in engineering or health care, or in law or public policy. Festivals like these can make them aware of the significance of all science."
The science festival schedule is at http://www.bayareascience.org/schedule/
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