ASF: catalyst for laughing and learning


Six scientist, including a chemist and psychologist, came to answer questions from the crowd.

Astrophysicists and forensic anthropologists crowd into a theater on the side of Georgia Tech’s campus. The lights come down, and four teenagers and four adults come out to the roar of the audience. MC lew lefton shouts “Welcome to the first ever science comedy improv show,” and the night begins.

This was just one of many events in 2014’s Atlanta Science Festival (ASF).

Lew Lefton, Math professor and It director at Georgia Tech and co-creator of Decatur’s newest ‘Makerspace,’ helped out with various part of the festival this year.

“I enjoy doing science outreach to the public and celebrating science and math,” Lefton said. “I like the events themselves. The planning can be a lot of work but the event makes it all worthwhile.”

These events, ranging from children’s fairs to scientist discussions, took place in and around Atlanta on the March week of the 24th through the 28th.

Decatur students went to and participated in quite a few events the year. Senior Natalie Lefton hooked her senior project up to the festival. She hosted an “Ask a Scientist” night on Monday 24th in decatur’s PAC.

Natalie Lefton hosted an “Ask a Scientist” night in Decatur’s PAC on March 24th, as part of the Atlanta Science Festival (ASF).

“I chose [this project] because I like science,” Natalie said.

The second-year chemistry intern focused on a meeting a need closer to home.

“I think that being involved in science poses a lot of interesting questions but a lot of times students aren’t given the opportunity to ask their questions in a traditional science classroom,” she said.

Natalie got into the festival from her dad, Lew Lefton.

“My dad recommend applying to be of on the festivals partner programs. It was cool to be apart of such a big and well known event,” she said.

Although not as well attended as Natalie hoped, students still enjoyed the chance to talk with real scientists.

Seniors Rachel Glasser and Brittany Sadler attended the event. (pic4) After every event, including Natalie’s, participants are asked to fill out a survey for ASF, to use as feedback for next years festival.

Attendee and senior Rachel Glasser loves being exposed the all the professionals.

“My favorite part was when the scientist asked each other questions,” she said. “You could see that they had a strong enough knowledge base of all sciences to ask insightful questions about the other scientists’ specialities.”

Six scientist, including a chemist and psychologist, came to answer questions from the crowd.

The festival was eye opening for the community.

“I think it’s important for people to see real science and how it impacts their lives. Decatur has a lot of scientist and curious citizens so a festival like this engages a broad section of our community,” Natalie said.

Science teacher Debra LeDoux aggres about the significance of science, saying it plays in a role in three big parts: “energy, health and the environment,” especially when it comes to global warming.

“In the news is a lot of data is coming in right now to say that the complications due to climate change are gonna be really drastic. so I think in order for people to understand and make good decisions and deal with all of the that, they a basic level of science knowledge,” she said.

Whether for technical reasons or for fun, LeDoux loves the festival.

“The science festival, I think, is amazing for spreading interest in science,” she said. “It just peaks peoples interests and makes them want to learn more.”

Another event at the festival was the “science flavored improv comedy,” as Lefton describes it. The show went off without a hitch.

“It was awesome – probably the best improv audience I’ve seen in many years,” Lefton said. “Having ‘science flavored’ improv was unique, but because the crowd knew what to expect, everyone felt comfortable being extra geeky.”

The bulk of the show’s credit can go to the cast, who Lefton says “had not performed together before that night” but all “brought their a-game.”

Decatur students Lexi Ritter, Claire Smith and Eric Broner were part of the cast, helping spread laughter that night.

Smith was  originally “a bit nervous because of my lack of science knowledge in general.” Luckily, her butterflies stopped when the group began practicing before the show.

“I immediately got over that when I met the cast,” she said.

Broner had a different worry.

“My biggest fear was that I would appear too nerdy,” he said.

After the show started though, he altered his goal: “My new fear was how to make myself seem nerdier.”

Improviser and junior Ritter enjoyed the opportunity to perform.

“The nerds were awesome – super hyped. I loved their energy and I thought it was a good show all around,” Ritter said. “Performing with a science theme was just the right amount of difficult to make it not only fun, but funny.”

Overall, the festival made an impact on Decatur.

because of the success of ASF this year, LeDoux plans to find “a way, either through personal projects or senior projects or what we do in the classroom, [where] students can have opportunities to share what they learned with other people.”

Natalie plans to keep up her own learning and continue thinking scientifically.

“At this point I am probably going to major in math and science in college,” she said. “I’ve always loved it, and it’s always been something that’s come naturally to me.”

As for next year’s science festival, people have the fingers crossed for it coming back.

“I think the ASF is a wonderful idea and hope it stays an Atlanta event for the years to come,” Broner said.

Lefton plans to work with the festival in the future.

“I expect to be involved next year, with both science humor and maker activities. I’d like to bring out some more mathematical events as well,” he said.

As for Natalie’s senior project, she wants it to live on as well.

Seniors Rachel Glasser and Brittany Sadler attended the event.

“I hope someone puts [Ask a Scientist] on next year, or something similar,” she said. “I think that there a lot more people that can be impacted. I think many people have questions about stuff, and much of our lives can be explained by the principles of science.