Science has found a home along St. Pete’s waterfront
An estimated 10,000 people received an inside look at the latest research emanating from the St. Petersburg Innovation District, and how it relates to daily life, during an expansive event Saturday.
The 2023 St. Petersburg Science Festival, held jointly with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) MarineQuest, showcased several critical yet sometimes overlooked organizations along Bayboro Harbor. The combined events spanned the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and Poynter Park’s waterfront.
Alison Barlow, executive director of the Innovation District, said 804 fourth and fifth graders had been bussed in by Pinellas County Schools (PCS) Friday. The event – both days – showcased the intersection of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) to children and adults through more than 50 interactive exhibits.
“Our exhibits are exclusively hands-on and must engage the kids,” Barlow said. “No selling of anything, nothing else.”
Highlights for Barlow included a NASA team’s space discussion, the PCS robotics team and the Amateur Radio Club’s booth that helped children learn about a valuable communication device that existed long before cellphones. She noted that eSmart Recycling officials assist with the Innovation District’s digital inclusion program, and their exhibit offered kids a chance to deconstruct a computer and see its inner workings.
Local leaders hope to continue increasing STEAM education throughout area schools, and Barlow hopes the weekend’s events will inspire involvement in other related activities throughout the year. Ultimately, she said the festivals could lead to students realizing new career opportunities.
“I think one of the things that the Science Festival does well is it not only teaches kids to care about their environment and the community, but it also exposes them to jobs,” Barlow added. “They may not even have known our jobs.”
Many of those careers are part of what scientists call the “new blue economy.” The traditional blue economy focuses on fisheries, tourism and maritime transportation. The latest iteration capitalizes on improved marine data collection, analysis and dissemination to spur financial growth and address societal challenges.
Officials with USF and the Innovation District recently applied for a 10-year, $160 million National Science Foundation grant related to the new blue economy. After a four-year hiatus, the festival provided a chance to showcase ongoing regional science efforts to a wide audience.
According to a USF release, officials canceled the 2019 festival due to Tropical Storm Nestor. The pandemic caused a transition to virtual events in 2020 and 2021.
In 2022, organizers decided to push the event back from October to February to avoid the height of hurricane season. The Innovation District had opened the nearby Maritime and Defense Technology Hub since the last in-person festival, and its nearly two-dozen tenants also encompass STEM aspects.
In addition to the Hub, the College of Marine Science, Florida Flood Hub, Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg, the FWC’s Research Institute, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regional office and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Coastal and Marine Science Center operate about mile apart.
“I heard from several adults that they didn’t even realize this kind of stuff was happening in St. Pete,” Barlow said. “Many of our exhibitors are based in St. Pete, and almost all are based in Tampa Bay. So, it’s a great chance to highlight work they don’t even realize is happening right down the street.”
She called the partnership with USFSP “amazing” and said it allowed the Science Festival and MarineQuest, now in its 28th year, to operate side-by-side. The Colleges of Marine Science and Arts and Sciences hosted two of the largest tents – and Barlow noted the “tremendous benefit” of having college students teach their younger counterparts.
“And then just the beautiful location; it makes it such a lovely day,” Barlow added. “We’re excited to have been back, and the feedback was fantastic.”
For more information on the St. Petersburg Science Festival, visit the website here.
February 20, 2023at5:11 pm
Suggestion – do not have the same day as Localtopia!