2017: The Year in Public Science Events

Every year the Science Festival Alliance puts together an annual report of activity. The combined numbers for SFA member festivals really add up! (The 2017 report will be available in mid-February).  This year we dabbled a bit with collecting annual report information on public science events writ large. To do so, we asked a small core of public science event producers and researchers to share what they could about any activities or findings related to in-person public science events.  Questionable methodology? Yup. We'll be the first to admit it: but that's what you get when you put next-to-zero resources into a first-time effort to measure a sprawling, disconnected sector. It's by no means comprehensive. It highlights some smaller efforts while leaving out some massive initiatives altogether. It doesn't even fit into a format that helps us add up basic outcome numbers, such as attendance figures...  

...but, it's still intriguing to see the replies we received. So, we've done our best to summarize the responses below. There's evidence here of tens of thousands of events in 2017, reaching tens of millions of Americans. And it hints at the vigorous, churning range of activity, with event formats innovating as they spread from place to place.  If you have a public science event that you want us to highlight, take a minute and tell us about it here. All you need to do is give us a quick description of the event, your name and email address.  So, without further ado...  

2017: The Year in Public Science Events; Read More: Total Solar EclipseMarch for ScienceScience FestivalsCaveatTeen Science Cafe NetworkThe Science Events Summit (formerly IPSEC)Nerd Nite Surpasses 100 Cities GloballyThe Story ColliderYou're the ExpertAAAS Family Science DaysGuerilla ScienceA taste of science: a fest to feed your curiosity!International Observe the Moon Night

Total Solar Eclipse

The basic facts:

An estimated 4.6 Million US adults (age 18 or over) attended organized events to view the total solar eclipse on August 21. NASA’s Eclipse 2017 website listed over 1,000 community viewing events, though this is not a comprehensive list.


Jon Miller’s report on viewing: https://www.isr.umich.edu/cps/initialeclipseviewingreport.pdf

Other related reports, trends, observations?

The eclipse was an inflection point in a growing trend of general event organizers recognizing that it can be desirable, and even profitable, to embrace and incorporate science into events.

The Eclipse also sparked a variety of citizen science projects, some of which, like the Eclipse Megamovie (https://eclipsemega.movie/) attracted considerable public engagement and public attention.

The media company Atlas Obscura held a festival celebrating the eclipse, described as a “once-in-a-lifetime festival of science, music, and celestial wonder.” The event only had a few hundred attendees, but the program included many scientists and science communicators. Photos of that event are here.

The Pratt Institute, in partnership with Guerilla Science and funded by the National Science Foundation hosted a residency bringing together artists and scientists to produce installations for the Oregon Eclipse music and arts festival, which had 30,000 attendees. An estimated 6,000 festival goers came into contact with science through the installations.

March for Science

The basic facts:

The first-ever March for Science on April 22 garnered massive press coverage and brought an estimated 1 Million people to the streets in organized events at more than 600 marches around the world.


The event has since lived on as an independent organization with an active Facebook presence etc. [say more about the state of it, in part because it shows that a mega in-person event is a great starting point for sustained activities.]

Other related reports, trends, observations?

“Alt” science agencies have popped up on Twitter to fill the communications gap left by agencies such as the EPA and USDA, who have been prohibited by the government from using certain phrases or words. @altEPA twitter has > 400k followers. @altusda has > 250k followers. A summary of that trend from Scientific American is here.

Science Festivals

The basic facts:

Science Festival Alliance membership hit an all-time high of 60 independently operated festivals in 2017. A formal annual report will be finished in mid-February, but some top line numbers:

  •   54 SFA member festivals  celebrated in 2017  
  • Those festivals reached over 2 Million attendees
  • Those festivals worked with more than 4,000 collaborating organizations, and more than 11,000 volunteers

The NSF-funded EvalFest project launched three new studies of science festivals in 2017, including a motivation study focused on festival attendees and partners, a timing and tracking study to document how children engage with festival booths, and a Truth Booth to gather impressions of science from the public who attends both free public science events and other free public events that do not focus on science. The annual EvalFest survey of attendees topped the 30,000 mark in 2017.

The RAIN project, another NSF AISL funded project that looks at STEM opportunities in rural communities, including various forms of community festivals associated with STEM or STEM-related topics.

Other related reports, trends, observations?

New York City’s World Science Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary in June.


Scientists are bringing their work to places like Burning Man. One such collective is called The Phage, who hosted Guerilla Science’s Flavor Feast installation this year, which reached an estimated 1,000 burners.

Caveat opens

The basic facts:

This New York City performance space opened in September as a nightclub with science on stage as the draw.


Story in New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/17/arts/science-podcasts-youre-the-expert-startalk.html

Review in The New Yorker:


Profile in What Should We Do:


Caveat is dedicated to producing intelligent nightlife. It specializes in staging and creating productions that blend academics and the performing arts. Programs range from pairing scientists with stage directors to create a “directed talk” to sit-down conversations about solving near-future problems to comedy about science & history to the Planet Earth Drinking Game, which is exactly what it sounds like.

While Caveat's remit is all of academics, science accounts for about half of  programming in some way.

Science-related events: roughly 50%.

Opened: Sept 5th, 2017.

Tickets sold as of 1/19/18: 8080

Number of events staged as of 1/19/18: 152

Venue capacity: 110 seated, 150 including standing room

Special features: state of the art A/V system, including laser projector w/ 12’ wide screen, built-in digital multi-track recorder, and 3 robotic cameras.

Teen Science Cafe Network

The basic facts:

The Teen Science Cafe Network wrapped up 2017 with 86 active member sites across the US.


Other related reports, trends, observations?

See the bottom of this doc for much more detail.*

The Science Events Summit (Formerly IPSEC)

The basic facts:

For the first time in it’s 6-year history this meeting hit the road as a stand-alone conference, with 150 attending in Madison, WI.


Two new scales that are relevant for public science events were shared with the community for the first time during the 2017 IPSEC meeting and later published. The scales were validated to measure short-term outcomes of public engagement with science activities on scientists, focusing on the constructs of self-efficacy and outcome expectations.

Other related reports, trends, observations?

This meeting will be in St. Petersburg, FL in June of 2018, but under a new name: the Science Events Summit. A new website for the Summit was launched in 2017: https://science.events

Nerd Nite Surpasses 100 Cities Globally

With the debut of Nerd Nite Fort Lauderdale in Fall 2017, Nerd Nite surpassed 100 cities globally that hold Nerd Nite events multiple times each year. New 2017 Nerd Nite cities varied dramatically in terms of size and location of city, as it began in towns ranging from Livingston, Montana and Fort Lauderdale, FL, to Milton, Ontario and Singapore.  Nerd Nite’s formula of listening to fun-yet-informative presentations while enjoying a few adult beverages in performance venues, bars, and other non-traditional education settings is still quite popular.  Be there and be square!: http://www.nerdnite.com

The Story Collider

The basic facts:

The Story Collider produced [TK - 39] shows across [TK] cities. New regular shows were launched in Atlanta, St. Louis, and Toronto. The podcast switched to two stories per episode, doubling the number of stories released per week. Story Collider training formats expanded to include a new webinar format piloted for Springer Nature authors. Academic collaborations expanded to include work on self-authorship among engineers at Boise State University and narrative skills in medical education with Yale and the National Neuroscience Curriculum Initiative. Publications in preparation. We also helped commission and edit a new special collection of peer-reviewed conservation science narratives for PLOS Biology, to be published in Q2 2018. Contact Liz Neeley (Liz@StoryCollider.org) for details.


Other related reports, trends, observations?

End-of-year podcast review & best-of mention: https://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/51231/title/Opinion--11-Best-Science-Podcasts/

You’re the Expert

The basic facts:

You’re the Expert produced 14 live shows in 9 states including partnering on events with National Geographic, Just For Laughs in Toronto, the Women in Comedy Festival, the Cambridge Science Festival, Maine Science Festival, Atlanta Science Festival, and more. Regular monthly live tapings at Caveat in NYC began.


Other related reports, trends, observations?

Writeup in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/17/arts/science-podcasts-youre-the-expert-startalk.html

AAAS Family Science Days

The basic facts:

Free, hands-on science fun for the entire family.

AAAS Family Science Days is a free public science event that offers an array of hands-on family and child-friendly activities. It is held during the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting, the largest general scientific conference in the world. The 2017 AAAS Family Science Days event was held Saturday, February 18, and Sunday, February 19, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. Family Science Days features interactive booths appropriate for K-12 children and their families, highlighting diverse areas of science, as well as a live stage show and the chance to talk with scientists. www.aaas.org/fsd

Other related reports, trends, observations?

This was our highest attendance for this event in the US at 5,116 attendees. (when we were in Vancouver the attendance was 6,000+)

Guerilla Science

In total, Guerilla Science reached 9,697 members of the public with public engagement activities across eight events.

Guerilla Science participated in a month-long multidisciplinary festival and play on water and climate change produced by the theatrical group New Georges and covered by the New York Times.

Guerilla Science’s Fire Organ, a bespoke instrument that visualizes the shape of sound through fire, debuted at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust theater and was featured in the Brooklyn Paper. Three experimental musicians - Ziemba, P. Spadine, and Levy Lorenzo, composed a series of unique pieces for the Fire Organ and performed to a sell-out crowd of 120. The project brought together a musical composition with advanced physics in a way that drove the musicians, audience and consulting scientists to gain an appreciation of other disciplines.

Guerilla Science opened up a 1,200 square foot pop-up called Sweet Shoppe at 1 Brooklyn Bridge Park exploring sugar’s role in everything from agricultural systems, its physiological impact, to the politics of sugar manufacturing. The three day exhibition was free and open to the public, with an estimated 600 attendees. It was produced in collaboration with Science Sandbox New Lab fellow Emily Baltz.

taste of science: A fest to feed your curiosity!

The basic facts:

taste of science is an annual science festival that takes place in April across the US. It is the largest program run by Scientists, Inc. a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to science outreach. There are many amazing science events geared towards children, so we wanted to create one that’s dedicated to adults so they can learn in their favorite hangout whether that’s a bar, a museum, a café or a park. Each one of our cities has multiple events over a week where the audience can interact with and learn about the research being carried out by their friendly neighborhood scientists. More details at: tasteofscience.org

Other related reports, trends, observations?

To our knowledge this is the largest scale event of its kind to take place simultaneously across the US. We started of in just 5 cities in 2014, but in 2018 we will have a total of 20 host cities. We had 6000+ attendees in 2017. Our goal is to reach as varied an audience as possible. While this can be difficult to assess we have some indications of who they are from our end of festival surveys. Unsurprisingly, most have some kind of college degree, for around 16% their highest level of education is a high school diploma. Also, when our festival was new, the majority of our audience comprised scientists and those in related engineering and tech fields (around 75%). As the years go on, this number goes down (for 2017 about 44% were from science/health/tech fields). We hope that this is a reflection of attracting a more diverse audience but appreciate that there are still many demographics that we need to reach out to.

We were also nervous going into many cities with long standing science on tap/science festivals/science cafes, however, it would seem that the public has an insatiable appetite for these events and that we’ve thrived because of this. Also many of those Nerdnite, Astronomy on Tap and festival organizers are now our friends, colleagues and collaborators in scicomm.

International Observe the Moon Night

The basic facts:

An estimated 242,000 individuals attended over 600 organized events in 51 countries around the world to celebrate the 8th annual International Observe the Moon Night event on October 28, 2017, 248 of these events were held in the US in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. More information at: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/international-observe-moon-night_.  International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN) is an annual worldwide public event that encourages observation and appreciation of the Moon.  Visitors are invited to learn more about the Moon and its connection to NASA planetary science and exploration, as well our cultural and personal connections to it.

Other related reports, trends, observations?

Each year, thousands of people participate in InOMN at museums, planetaria, schools, universities, observatories, parks, businesses, and backyards around the world.

Over 4,400 InOMN events have been registered between 2010 and 2017, engaging over 600,000 visitors worldwide. Events have been held in all 50 US states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, as well as 99 countries.

Each year data is collected from host registration forms, post-event host surveys and visitor surveys. Evaluation results demonstrate that InOMN events are successful in raising visitors’ awareness of lunar science and exploration, providing audiences with information about lunar science and exploration, and inspiring visitors to want to learn more about the Moon. Additionally, this year’s results show that event hosts leveraged excitement from the August 21st solar eclipse into this year’s InOMN events.