BANGOR, Maine — A dozen grades three through five students from Houlton — and their entourage of adults — boarded a bus early Saturday morning for the Maine Science Festival to take in the dozens of hands-on learning opportunities available to young and old alike.
“They showed the grass and how the environment is with all the ticks but they’re not real,” one of the students, Ella McCarthy, said of as she cradled a small terrarium made from a clear plastic cup filled with dirt, grass seedlings and fake baby ticks in her hand.
The learning unit on the dangers of ticks was one of dozens of activities available at Exploration Station in the ballrooms at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Elsewhere in the building were workshops on robotics, green energy and the computer game Minecraft, photo exhibits on human anatomy, and a panel discussion on how manufacturers in Maine use science in their processes and what they produce.
Nathan Sheranian of Veazie moderated the panel discussion and brought his 7-year-old son, Canon, along to take in the activities.
“Robotics was full so I’m looking for the Minecraft stuff,” said Canon, a student at the Veazie Community School.
Sheranian said his son wants to be an engineer when he grows up.
“He loves science and technology and math, and so as a parent, it’s really important for me to expose him to a lof of different disciplines at a young age,” he said.
“Things like robotics and technology and software. All of those things really contribute to really rich environment that he gets exposed to at school, but also it has a place in his own personal interest as well so being able to see the different people in different areas is cool,” he said.
Sheranian is head of human resources at General Electric in Bangor, where science and technology come into play every day.
“If you think about the importance of building interest and excitement and enthusiasm in manufacturing and in science and technology-based careers there’s tremendous need for us to build that pipeline of talent,” he said.
“There’s a lot of negative press about the industries that are going away, but there’s a lot of really fantastic stuff going on right in this state, and it’s so important for a company like GE to be involved in showcasing the really amazing stuff that goes on right here in our own backyard,” he said.
Sheranian noted that the plant in Bangor is making component and product being used to provide dependable power around the globe, including developing countries, such as those in Africa.
Kate Dickerson, the festival’s founder and director, said Saturday she expected that 10,000 to 12,000 will have taken part in the four-day festival by the time it winds down Sunday.
The science festival is, to her knowledge, the only one of its kind in Maine as it is open to everyone.
“We called it the Maine Science Festival because we’re highlighting science from all across Maine,” she said. “It’s not just at the University of Maine. It’s not just at [Mount Desert Island, home of the Jackson Laboratory] and it’s not just in Portland. It’s happening everywhere.
“One of the things I’ve been proud of for the past three years is to not just volume [of activities and events], but also the enthusiastic support from the arts organizations who ‘get it’ and the scientists who are equally excited to have the arts organizations involved,” she said.
“Because scientists don’t always tell their story as well as they should so they know that artists can help them tell their story and that’s great,” she said.
The huge papier mache skull being made at the University of Maine Museum of Art in anticipation of the upcoming Smithsonian exhibit “ Exploring Human Origins: What Does it Mean to Be Human?” at Bangor Public Library was just one example.
“So if you realize that you may not be great at telling a story but you can tell it well enough to one person — an artist who can help you then tell your story better — then we’re all better for it,” she said, adding, “It’s not a model that a lot of science festivals use but we did a deep dive into making sure we not only invited arts organizations but have relied on them in many ways for our programing and they have been hands down extraordinary.”