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Science Festival draws 13,000 attendees

Ashley Morales



The St. Petersburg Science Festival and MarineQuest drew a crowd of about 13,000 attendees to St. Pete's waterfront over the weekend. Photo provided.

The St. Petersburg Science Festival and MarineQuest, annual events to inspire creativity, engage curiosity, and deepen knowledge of science and the arts, drew an estimated 13,000 attendees the 2024 edition Feb. 9 and 10.

The two events happen side-by-side on the waterfront of the University of South Florida (USF) St. Petersburg campus and outside the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Alison Barlow, Executive Director of the St. Petersburg Innovation District and co-chair of the St. Petersburg Science Festival, said this year was one of the most attended in the science festival’s 14 years and MarineQuest’s 29 years of operation.

Organizers said this year’s St. Petersburg Science Festival and MarineQuest events featured more hands-on activities than ever before. Photo: Chad Mairn.

“This gives [festival attendees] a ton of insight into the really interesting work happening in St. Pete and in our region. Almost all of the exhibitors are from this region,” Barlow said. “What I love about the science festival is that it’s one of those events in St. Pete that is truly multigenerational. We have toddler age, all the way up to teenagers and their parents and grandparents attending. We also have lots of older adults coming on their own without kids.”

The festival connects scientists, environmental organizations and cultural institutions with the public through immersive exhibits and hands-on demonstrations in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM). Organizers said this year’s event hosted more hands-on activities than ever before, including a mobile aquarium, seagrass maze and a virtual reality shark show.

The St. Pete Innovation District’s Lauren Bell coordinated the festival. She said a robotic police dog from the St. Petersburg Police Department and a demonstration from Bayfront Health on how hand sanitizer works were some of the most popular activities.

“All the kids put on gloves and got a little dab of paint on their hands to rub around like it was hand sanitizer. It was a really good visual representation, so they could see where they missed. It makes the concept super relatable, and the littles absolutely adored it because it’s messy but controlled chaos,” Bell said.

This year’s exhibitors included USF’s College of Marine Science, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Geological Survey, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Weather Service, Florida Aquarium and the St. Petersburg Police Department. 

“It was very, very dog-like for a little robot,” said Lauren Bell, coordinator of the St. Petersburg Science Festival, of one of the most popular exhibits featuring a demonstration of a robotic police dog from the St. Petersburg Police Department. Photo provided.

More than a thousand local students got a sneak peek of the festival during organized field trips Friday, Feb. 9. The early access gave children the opportunity to learn about STEAM concepts and how they’re used in different career paths. Organizers said the growing interest in STEAM subjects and providing students with exposure to future career opportunities was a major reason for establishing the festival.

“It’s important for kids to get a sense of jobs and careers they may not even know exist,” Barlow said. “There were certainly many topics being covered that kids will learn about in the classroom, but it may be a one-day class or may have lasted a couple of weeks. Here, they got to talk to somebody who is doing the job to learn about what it looks like. They also probably saw things they would never have seen before. In fact, we had things like a Saildrone, which I know most of the adults in the community don’t even get to see often.”

Barlow said this year’s festival cost about $40,000 to put on. The festival is free for attendees due to financial support from Duke Energy, Sea Us Rise, Tampa Bay Water and other local sponsors. As the festival grows each year, organizers said they now have to seek additional funding to be able to continue providing it to the community at no cost.

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