The St. Petersburg Science Festival and MarineQuest returned with more hands-on activities than ever before, including a mobile aquarium, seagrass maze and a shark show utilizing virtual reality. The event aimed to inspire creativity, engage curiosity and deepen knowledge of science and the arts.
More than 15,000 people were expected to attend the event that occurred on Saturday, Feb. 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the waterfront of the USF St. Petersburg campus and outside the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. The two events happen side-by-side in downtown St. Petersburg, allowing attendees to walk from one to the other.
The joint festival connects scientists, environmental organizations and cultural institutions with the public via immersive exhibits and hands-on demonstrations in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).
“We are fortunate to have STEAM experts working on local issues with national and sometimes international impact. Solving these issues is critical to our daily lives and the future of our community,” said Alison Barlow, St. Petersburg Science Festival co-chair and executive director of the St. Petersburg Innovation District. “We are incredibly lucky that these experts recognize the importance of teaching our youth and their families about their work.”
Experts showcasing their work came from USF’s College of Marine Science, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Geological Survey, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Weather Service, the Florida Aquarium and more.
“Science is relevant to our daily lives. This event humanizes science by taking scientists out of the lab and bringing them together with the public where they can ask questions, generate ideas and talk about research,” said E. Howard Rutherford, the associate vice president of development at USF St. Petersburg, and co-founder of the St. Petersburg Science Festival.
New interactive and immersive exhibits for the 2024 festival included:
A mobile aquarium with a variety of fish and other marine life.
A touch-a-truck exhibit where guests explored a variety of city vehicles, an airplane and a Saildrone, which is an uncrewed surface vehicle designed to go where ships cannot and built to survive the dangerous conditions of the ocean.
A seagrass maze that allowed participants to travel through a seagrass meadow and collect organisms to build a food web.
A shark exhibit where visitors saw real skeletons, jaws and skin. They also took part in a virtual reality experience that involves a shark show and tell.
Around 1,100 school children got a sneak peek of the St. Petersburg Science Festival and MarineQuest during organized field trips on Friday, Feb. 9. During the preview, students learned about getting involved in STEAM fields and different career paths.
The festival also hosted the Junior Scientists program, where middle and high school students work alongside a science professional. The growing interest in STEAM subjects and student career opportunities was a major reason for establishing the festival.
Careers in science, technology, engineering and math – known