Science arcade night, storytelling headline 2016 Wisconsin Science Festival

From arcade games to storytelling to stargazing, the 2016 Wisconsin Science Festival, held Oct. 20-23, will feature something for everyone across 200-plus events.

Now in its sixth year, the festival continues to grow with activities spanning 34 different cities and towns in Wisconsin.

Laura Heisler, director of the festival and programming for the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and the Morgridge Institute for Research, says she’s enthusiastic about the kinds of activities that have blossomed around the state.

“I’m really excited to see places take ownership of the festival and make it work for them,” says Heisler. “We’re seeing more science expos than ever before, a lot of involvement across the UW campuses, and many locations creating brand new events.”

Eric Wilcots, associate dean for natural and mathematical sciences in the UW–Madison College of Letters and Science and member of the science festival steering committee, says the challenge of any science festival is to present something to folks who don’t think they’re interested in science.

“Science is absolutely everywhere and is vitally important to our lives,” says Wilcots. “We don’t recognize it in many ways, but we are all inherently curious about something. You have to capture someone’s natural curiosity and imagination to pull them in.”

For example, Green Bay Packers fans can learn the science of football prior to kickoff and during halftime at the UW–Madison Union South watch party. The age 21 and over crowd can participate in a demonstration on the science of arcade-era cocktails during the “Science Arcade Night” at the Discovery Building.

“Science Arcade Night” is a new Madison featured event showcasing the science, technology, engineering, math and, of course, the fun behind vintage arcade games, virtual reality, multi-player games and more. Keynote presenters—including “the man who saved pinball” and a designer for the Apples to Apples game—will talk about their experiences in the world of games.

Science storytelling is another entrée to festival participation and is the focus of a Saturday featured event, “Science Storytellers Jam!”

“More and more people are understanding that storytelling is a way to create public access to science, whether it’s scientists telling their stories or someone telling a story about science,” says Heisler. “Madison has strong existing story-driven groups that have exploded with popularity and are involved in creating our Saturday night featured event.”

In this event, scientists team up with Nerd Nite Madison, a monthly gathering with presentations on various topics for nerds and non-nerds alike, to present the “Science Storytellers Jam!” The stories will intertwine science with more personal experiences and provide something educational and entertaining.

Many activities will be held in the Town Center of the Discovery Building, 330 North Orchard Street, with other events taking place elsewhere in Madison and in many communities statewide.

Highlighted events include:

  • Big Ideas Amazing Students—State Capitol

    This event provides an opportunity to interact with K-12 students from around the state as they share their projects or discoveries connected to the science of health, wellness and/or metabolism. Students will display their poster boards, exhibits and materials on Thursday and Friday, October 20 and 21.

    Details: Thursday, Oct. 20, Noon – 1 p.m. and Friday, Oct. 21, Noon – 1 p.m. in the Wisconsin State Capitol Rotunda on the main floor.

  • Science Arcade Night

    Science Arcade is a hands-on science event that connects all ages to the science, technology, engineering, math and, of course, the fun behind games. The evening will showcase vintage arcade games, virtual reality with the Living Environments Laboratory’s Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, augmented reality, DIY cardboard games, multi-player games, place-based games, board games and more.

    Details: Friday, Oct. 21, 6 – 9 p.m. in the Discovery Building.

  • Big Ideas for Busy People

    Back for a third year at the Wisconsin Science Festival, Big Ideas for Busy People features five of UW’s best and brightest covering topics from motion tracking to Shakespeare’s genome to gravitational waves. Each speaker gives five-minute talks followed by five minutes of Q&A. A ringing gong calls out anyone who goes over the allotted time.

    This year’s speakers include Dr. Carla Pugh, department of surgery, UW–Madison; Joshua Coon, department of chemistry, UW–Madison; Joshua Calhoun, department of English, UW–Madison; Patrick Brady, department of physics, UW-Milwaukee; Melissa Skala, biomedical engineering, UW–Madison and the Morgridge Institute for Research.

    Details: Saturday, Oct. 22, 7 – 8 p.m. in the Discovery Building.

  • Science Storyteller’s Jam!

    You’re invited to a special evening of science storytelling supported by Nerd Nite and Jen Rubin, a many-time Moth storytelling champion. The stories will intertwine science with more personal experiences and will definitely prove to be both educational and entertaining. At this laid-back event, the audience is encouraged to ask questions or submit ideas that will affect the content of the stories.

    Details: Saturday, Oct. 22, 8:30 – 10:30 p.m. in the Discovery Building.

Check the Wisconsin Science Festival website for more detailed information about the full festival schedule for Madison and statewide events ( Entry to most festival events will be free, though some activities may require nominal fees for materials. Some community partner sites may charge their usual admission fees.

CONTACT: Laura Heisler, 608-316-4392,