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Tucson Science Scene

Science City at the Tucson Festival of Books
By Shipherd Reed

Welcome back to Tucson Science Scene! Spring is here in the Sonoran Desert. Along with the wildflowers, March brings the Tucson Festival of Books (the weekend of March 14, 15), the third biggest book festival in the country! Held at the University of Arizona, (U of A) the Book Fest celebrates our region’s passion for reading and knowledge.

A big part of Tucson’s Book Fest is "Science City," a whole section of the festival that brings together all the wonderful science and engineering outreach organizations in the Tucson region. Fun for all ages, Science City offers all kinds of cool science activities and presentations and information. It’s also the perfect place to discover all the ways you can engage with science here in Southern Arizona. Our Book Festival here in Tucson is also the only one in the country that features "science literacy" as a major component of the event.

The "city" is divided into five "neighborhoods" that focus on different science themes. The neighborhood themes include the Science of Everyday Life, the Science of the Natural World, the Science of Tomorrow, and the Science of You. This year, in special recognition of Super Pi Day on March 14, there will also be a Science of Pi (π) neighborhood that is all about mathematics and physics. Each neighborhood hosts many different participants inside one giant tent.

Inside those neighborhood theme tents, you’ll find all kinds of fascinating programs, from live animals brought by the Desert Museum to cool space science from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission that is based at the U of A. With over 80 different groups participating, this town is a science bonanza. Where else can you find the Vatican Observatory, the UA Biochemistry Club, and Native Seeds/SEARCH, all in one place? Science City really does offer something for everybody. Don’t miss the "volcano eruptions" three times a day on both days, at 11: 00 am, 1:00 pm, and 3:00 pm. They always thrill the crowd.

The Science City section of the Tucson Festival of Books started as a "Science Pavilion" in 2010 and 2011. But that single tent pavilion proved so popular that it had to expand, so in 2012 the UA’s Bio5 Institute teamed up with the UA College of Science. Working together, Bio5 and UA Science brought together all the regional organizations that connect with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education, and Science City was born. Today, Science City is the biggest "STEM" event in the whole state!

On a side note, the Bio5 Institute sometimes gets confused with the UA’s Biosphere2 facility, but they are very different. The Bio5 Institute is a research institute at the U of A dedicated to finding solutions to complex biology based challenges affecting humanity. The "5" in Bio5 stands for five core disciplines: Agriculture, Engineering, Medicine, Pharmacy and Science, and the institute brings together researchers from all of those disciplines to collaboratively find solutions. In contrast, Biosphere2 is a one-of-a-kind facility north of Tucson that was originally constructed as an attempt to recreate the natural systems of the planet Earth in an enclosed, sealed environment. Today, Biosphere2 is part of the UA College of Science, and hosts groundbreaking earth science research in addition to public tours. Biosphere2, of course, will be participating in Science City.

Now let’s get back to Science City. In its very first year, Science City proved wildly popular and drew thousands of visitors. Since then, it has only gotten better. In addition to the themed neighborhoods, there will be a Science Stage that has a full schedule on both days and features presentations by many acclaimed science authors like Helaine Becker, writer of the kids science book Zoobots: Wild Robots Inspired by Nature, about machines that look and behave like creepy crawly creatures such as geckos, jellyfish, and bats.

If you want to dig into more complex science and health topics, the Science Café tent is the perfect place to go. You’ll be able to learn about exciting research that is going on right now at the University of Arizona. With a full schedule of Science Cafes on both Saturday and Sunday, the Café topics will range from wearable medical technology to the moons of Jupiter.

As you probably know, the University of Arizona is a world leader in scientific research, and Science City is the perfect place to learn about all the science happening at UA. Faculty, students, and volunteers from dozens of UA departments and programs like Biosphere 2, the OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission, Science of Baseball, Insect Discovery, Family and Consumer Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Geosciences, the "School of Mind, Brain, and Behavior," Plant Sciences, Arizona Genomics Institute, Lunar and Planetary Science, the UA Environment and Sustainability Portal will all be there to share their passion for science.

You’ll also be able to tour facilities and laboratories at the University by attending the popular UA Open Houses and Tours that will run throughout the weekend and include the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium, Laboratory of Tree Ring Research, Campus Arboretum, Physics Department, Insect Collection, Museum of Natural History, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and the Herbaria. 

The whole event is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Helios Foundation. Science City is planned and coordinated by the Bio5 Institute, the UA College of Science, and the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, in a partnership with the Arizona SciTech Festival.

Finally, as if Science City were not enough, the whole event takes place on the UA’s central mall right in front of the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium. Flandrau will be open for FREE both days, and tickets for planetarium shows will be discounted to only $4.00. So, if you need a rest from all the science excitement outside, you can come into Flandrau to get out of the sun, tour the new "Meet the Trilobites" fossils exhibit, and see a show in the amazing new Flandrau FullDome planetarium theater.

Indeed, there is so much to see and do at Science City, you might have to come both days. When you arrive, you’ll be able to get a map of the neighborhoods with schedules for all the Science Cafes, presentations, and events. The event runs from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm on Saturday, March 14 and Sunday, March 15, and if you go to the website at you’ll find all the info you need. When you’re not at Science City, try to go for a hike and see the wildflowers this month—they should be dazzling thanks to all the rain we had this winter.

See you next month for more Tucson Science Scene!

About the Author:
Shipherd Reed
does science outreach for the University of Arizona College of Science. He’s based at the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium, which is a great place to learn about science. He loves talking to scientists to learn about their research and discoveries, and then he finds ways to communicate that science to the public—like in Tucson Happenings! It is fascinating work & he loves it.

Science City

Science City has something to offer for science enthusiasts of all ages.

Science City

All the groups that participate in Science City bring activities for young and old, in addition to information about what they do and where the do it.

Science City

Visitors will enjoy all kinds of interactive demonstrations at Science City.

Science City

In the Science Café tent, scientists talk about the research they are doing right now.

Science City

Click for PDF map of event.