How ice cream freezes, why dinosaurs had long tails and how rainbows form were among the topics investigated at this year's Science Festival. More than 10,000 came to the Weizmann Institute to take part in the fun during the Passover break.
The Clore Garden of Science, which attracts visitors year-round, expanded its borders during the festival to include large parts of the Weizmann campus. The non-stop festivities included exhibits, competitions, performances, workshops and guided tours.
Children of all ages had the opportunity to experience the excitement of scientific inquiry, whether by exploring the natural world or by performing experiments. In hands-on sessions they learned, among other things, the secrets of soap bubbles and optical illusions and how it feels to be an astronaut walking in space or skipping on the moon's surface. One of the most popular attractions was a chance to try out the "Segway" human transporter provided for the occasion by its inventor, Dean Kamen.
Visitors also participated in competitions presenting mental challenges. For example, they were asked to devise a way to drop an egg from a window several stories high (in the Koffler Accelerator Tower) without breaking it.
Four of the Institute's research teams, at the forefront of world science, presented their fields of research using demonstrations and simple, accessible language. Guides from the Visitors Center gave free tours of the Weizmann campus, taking visitors through the festival's attractions and introducing them to the Weizmann Historical Pavilion, the Physics Pavilion, the Solar Tower and Chaim Weizmann's house.
In the evenings, the Institute hosted two panel discussions and a biotechnology marathon featuring talks by top Weizmann scientists.
As in the past, the Municipality of Rehovot co-sponsored the festival, and the many guest exhibitors helped make it a success. Students from the Hebrew University's Faculty of Agriculture set up an exhibit on healthy eating and food facts and an exhibit on pet care. The Israel National Museum of Science and Technology and the Bloomfeld Science Museum in Jerusalem demonstrated scientific phenomenon. In addition, demonstrations were given by "Perach," a mentor program based at Weizmann," and "Halav," a program for personal health and dental hygiene. Others, too numerous to name, also contributed to the day's events.
The Science Festival was supported by Philip Garoon of Chicago and the Clore Foundation.
Schoolchildren leave their classrooms to investigate rocks in their natural surroundings, and then see how those same rocks become the building materials of their city; Arab and Jewish schoolchildren learn to communicate with each other while tracking migrating birds; 7th-graders in a school in northern Israel go on research expeditions to their local nature reserve.
Behind all these initiatives are educators who believe that when children get out of the classroom and into the "laboratory of life," they learn lessons that won't quickly be forgotten. Recently, around 150 teachers and principals, who are either involved in such programs or are considering them, came to the Davidson Institute of Science Education, which functions under the leadership of former Weizmann Institute President Prof. Haim Harari. They came from every corner of the country to spend their first day of the summer vacation at a conference on the subject of "Integrating the Environment Outside the Classroom into the School Study Program."
Dr. Yehuda Ben-Hur, Managing Director of the Davidson Institute, relayed his experiences in promoting outdoor programs on a national policy level. The highlight of the conference was a workshop in which educators from over 30 schools presented their experiences in putting together out-of-classroom programs. Many of the presentations were based on a model recently adopted by the Ministry of Education, developed by the Weizmann Institute's Prof. Nir Orion, Head of the Earth Sciences Division in the Science Teaching Department. "The conference is an important part of my long-term mission to make the outdoor learning environment an integral part of the learning process," says Orion. If he succeeds, children may one day actually perceive the world as a classroom.