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Call it a Carnival

The Evergreen State College Science Carnival sets stuff on fire

Not your little brother’s science fair. Photo courtesy The Evergreen State College

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The Evergreen Science Carnival promises breathtaking sideshows and unbelievable phenomena.

Don't go to the carnival expecting bearded ladies, strongmen or magic shows.

Think more along the lines of a chance to view solar flares or learn how to extract catnip - or see a student set his hand on fire, says Peter Robinson, who founded the carnival eight years ago.

Don't worry about that student: He meant to do it.

"Last year, we had someone who did cold flame," says Robinson, the science operations manager at the Evergreen State College. "He had a glove on. He ignited his hand. It had a blue flame, but it wasn't burning hot - it was burning cold. He was teaching the visitors about chemistry."

The carnival, happening Friday and Saturday, will feature presentations and demonstrations - more than half of them hands-on - by about 200 students.

Among the intriguing offerings this year are Psychopathy 101, Spider-Web Construction, Berry Amazing Solar Cells and the brilliantly titled It's Raining Mentos, Hallelujah.

It's not your little brother's science fair - although it's not completely unrelated, either.

"When I first started it, I thought about calling it a science fair, but a carnival sounded like more than a fair and communicated the idea that it's a fun and playful place to go," says Robinson.

"I envisioned this as eventually becoming an academic carnival, with audience members coming out to hear Russian poetry and learn to do shading with pencils and to make their own music," he adds. "Science was a fairly easy thing to start with."

Although the offerings have remained mostly science-based (with occasional art offerings), the carnival has grown a lot.

"The first year, we had 300 visitors, and last year we had about 2,500," he says. "There's no one on the West Coast who does anything like this, certainly not on this scale."

The event attempts to offer something for any member of the community. "We let students know that they can present at any level they want," Robinson says. "We do tell them to be prepared for audience members at all levels."

Activities for the face-painting set include Make-and-Take Science Toys and Drawing and Coloring Microscopic Monsters.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was an age restricted demonstration last year - but if you're thinking about the controversial demonstration held as part of a human sexuality class at Northwestern University, think again.

The presentation discussed research with bodies found outdoors. "Their interest was being able to identify how long a body has been in the environment," Robinson says. "The presentation was on decomposing bodies.

"We set an age limit of 16 and up for that one."

Robinson says he conceived the carnival as an opportunity for students to show off their scientific knowledge - and for younger people to experience the allure of science and of Evergreen's science program in particular.

No offense, but isn't Evergreen more of a place for liberal arts, where students dance and sing and learn to be politically active?

Surprisingly, no. There's another side to the Greener experience.

"Evergreen has a higher percentage of its science students going on to medical school than any other school in the Northwest," Robinson says. "I was aware that a lot of the people in the community didn't know that science was that strong at Evergreen, and that was part of my reason for starting the carnival.

"The further you get from Olympia, the stronger the reputation that Evergreen has," he adds. "That‘s not uncommon: The further you get from home, the stronger the reputation."

Evergreen Science Carnival and Research Exposition

Friday, May 27, and Saturday, May 28, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
free (for free parking Friday, tell the attendant you’re attending the carnival)
The Evergreen State College, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Olympia carnival

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