24–25 May the Polytechnic Museum held the festival of science and curiosity Polytech at VDNKh. It gathered thousands of visitors and tens of participants from Europe, North and South America.
In only two days over 30 thousand people visited the Festival. Among the participants, there were scientists, artists and engineers from 12 countries: the Netherlands, USA, Canada, Spain, France, Finland, Sweden, United Kingdom, Brazil, Poland, Ukraine and Russia. Polytech became a true feast for children and adults, as well as for the Polytechnic Museum itself, which conducted such a large-scale event for the first time. Here one could see exhibitions and installations, listen to lectures, watch movies and play at the interactive stands. And almost all activities listed, except for Rossiya Delaet Sama and the Theo Jansen’s exhibition, were fee-free.
The children and teens who attended the festival were able to feel like they were real paleontologists, sculptors, chemists, physicists, mathematicians and biologists. Maybe for many of them the experience will become the first step of their career in science as they begin to dream of their own inventions. Polytech became an inspiring education project for adults as well. Guests of the festival were able to learn a great lot about science, technology and even mythology. That was the overall goal for the festival’s organizers. Science communication is one of the major aspects of activity of the Polytechnic Museum. Unfortunately, that field is rather under-developed in Russia nowadays, and the Museum does its utmost to remedy the situation.
Ivan Bogantsev, deputy director general for science communication and educational activity, the Polytech festival director:
We wanted the programme to be diversified in respects of time schedule and audiences, we planned it so that visitors would have something to look at whenever they attend: in the morning, afternoon or late at the evening. They would only have to choose the activity according to their own values. In the morning the festival was more like a children event, while the evening programme, the science fiction performance Planet Lem for instance, attracted mostly youngsters and adults. Fact is, many children attended the festival, and this was exactly what we expected in terms of the age of the audience. In respect of the audience I was rather delighted by the fact that the people attended were so open-minded and friendly.
My daughter, who also visited the festival, was just happy, and that is the major performance indicator. She climbed the Brilliant Idea all over — the work of Nikolay Polissky was kids’ amusement for two days. The sculpture turned into a real ant hill, kids climbed onto it, rebuilt it, played with the construction set beside it, and all that exceeded any possible expectations. Many teenagers came to see the presentation Icarus at the Edge of Time, although it was scheduled to start rather late. It looked splendid within the Space Pavilion, amongst the “aliens” of Theo Jansen, accompanied by a classic orchestra… That was worth it.
I am especially pleased that not only the feature part made it well, but also the administrative one: there were no serious problems with the security, cleaning, equipment. We had a great food court, enjoyed by both the visitors and the participants. These things seem simple, but actually they are rather difficult to arrange so that nobody would complain. We engaged in such a venture for the first time — and succeed; as for me, that is also quite a feat. The work of the volunteers was also very important, they did great. I wish to express my gratitude to all of them.
Alexandra Kopernik, the Polytechnic Museum’s curator:
I arranged the Lectorium at the big stage, iLike, Rube Goldberg Machines Zone, Rubber Band Machine Gun stands, Science Battle and the Astronomers sidewalk. We were dreaming of launching the Chain Reaction Lab at the Museum for the long time (in fact, that is the Rube Goldberg Machines lab) and even ran an engineering contest regarding the subject. And the best we found were guys from the Tinkering Studio, US. We met them last summer during the trip across a number of states and visited Exploratorium and the Studio. And, you know, it is hard to not fall in love in it.
I had plenty of fears before the festival: I was afraid that it would be raining, that Russia would stop issuing visas to foreigners. As you see, these fears did not come true. I believe that the major contribution to the festival was made by the volunteers: working at the exhibition, explaining visitors how to build the Rube Goldberg machines, making announcements from the stage, meeting guests. These guys were amazing, the festival would not be like that without them. After all, delivery of an object comes to boxes, solving customs issues and obtaining permits to enter and exit. It really begins to work well and arouse interest when there is a nice person around, who is always ready to help and answer your questions.
There was an incident at the festival that made a great impression on me. A father took his son at the Rube Goldberg machines stand to assemble a chain reaction system. He intended just to assist his son, but got captured so badly that the boy himself went to his friend’s table, while the father was crawling on his knees, sticking needles to the Frankenstein’s hands (which were elements of our chain), asking other children not to hinder him — you know, with the voice of a nerd punting over his task. Wonderful dad. That is really cool, when people do not hesitate to get carried away.
Ilya Kolmanovsky, head of the Biology Lab at the Polytechnic Museum:
At the festival I was responsible for the Biology Lab Lawn, where we conducted modified classes of our lab, Cricket Fighting and Pareiasaurus Excavation. I have to admit, before the festival I had no idea what it was going to be like. I could hardly imagine myself on the square with the huge chaotic crowd flowing through it. What could possibly attract attention of the audience?
The cricket and the lizard thing turned out to be an interesting experience. It is clear that any animal at such an event would attract people and hundreds of boxes with crickets inside look fancy by themselves; but there are plenty of completely different formats — imagine that the same poem is to be whispered to someone in a dark room, written on paper with ink or shouted in a megaphone. Some things may be translated into various formats, but the result is always different. At the large-scale events, for instance, tiny details are what’s missed. Speaking of the cricket experiment, the nuances obviously dropped out, even did the main point of the class, when the insects’ behavior was getting reprogrammed with the flight before the audience’s very eyes. That were the crickets themselves that attracted attention — people just wanted to come over and gaze at them, so the trick had to be elementary and demanding minimal explanation.
The lizard case also gave me some interesting thoughts. In our lab we have a large model of stepping pareiasaurus, we conduct special classes about it at the ZIL centre — kids have to tell the footfall sequence of the lizard by examining his traces and then guess how it could walk without falling. At the very first day of the festival I realized that the intellectual excitement arising at the intimate atmosphere of the lab did not work at the festival, the classes met almost no interest of the audience. To be honest, at the end of the first day I went home in a disgusting mood and the next morning did not want to go back to the square at all. But during breakfast I remembered that when the pareiasaurus just paced the square it gathered a huge crowd around, and even a child could walk the lizard weighing 100 kilos. So on the second day together with the volunteers I started to walk the pareiasaurus round with the classes schedule announcement hanging on it. And after people watched the pacing model quite enough, the situation with the classes started to work out just great, attracting huge groups of motivated children.
The festival came to be perhaps the brightest experience in my life as an educator. You can surely explain your students what kind of research conducts the neighboring department, but the effect of the communication of that kind would be quite low. Or you can come to a square in the center of Moscow and catch crowds in your vortex so together you could get to the very complex intellectual discussion concerning antiquity, from the laws of biomechanics to practical experience. And when I could feel the vortex working, I felt absolutely happy, leaving the exhaustion behind. That was a very intense experience.