Bay Area Science Festival 2020: From Black Holes to Sourdough, It's All Virtual

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Young participants at the 2019 Bay Area Science Festival. (Courtesy of Bay Area Science Festival)

The Bay Area Science Festival is your once-a-year back-stage pass to the region's thriving science scene.

Marking a decade of celebrating curiosity, the festival, put on by UCSF, goes virtual this year. Gone will be the dramatic and extremely well-attended finale at Oracle Park, but very much present will be 125+ events, each with their own infectious display of passion and knowledge.

“We really are trying to connect people personally to scientists, researchers and technicians even in this virtual world,” said Katherine Nielsen, festival co-founder and co-director of the Science and Health Education Partnership at UCSF.

This year, the Bay Area Science Festival will tour a lab processing samples for the coronavirus, demonstrate what it takes to design a formula racing car, question the probability of extraterrestrial life, and wrestle with the ethics of CRISPR gene editing, to call out only a few of the festival's marquee events.

Spanish-language sessions on this year's schedule include how to talk to young people about COVID-19, the effect of dark energy on the expansion of the universe and life on other planets.


Here are some events that caught our eye, either because of their nod to current events or their unique nature. But really, you'll want to peruse the schedule yourself as the options are seemingly endless and you can customize your search to your interests and age range. Also, you must register (it's free!) to see full details of each event.

Events That Take You Outside

Interactive Bird Scavenger Hunt

If you've ever wanted to get into birding but find the Sibley guides overwhelming, this session is for you. Download the scavenger hunt card and join other aspiring ornithologists in observing local birds and their behavior.

Share the Night Sky

What do you get when you mix a radio show and a planetary show? This show features San Francisco’s “Urban Astronomer” Paul Salazar and KPOO's DJ Marilynn. Tune in for a guided tour of the night sky in real time.

Events for Big Thinkers

Astronomy Talks: Quantum Mechanics vs General Relativity: Clash of the Titans

Join a discussion about unifying the two theories and creating "a single theory that describes the entire Universe." Doesn't get much bigger picture than that, now, does it?

CRISPR, Sickle Cell Disease, and Society: A VR Explainer and Ethics Discussion

Explore how CRISPR genome editing may be used to repair the sickle cell mutation. See a virtual reality tour of the human body, and a talk on health disparities in the U.S. and the ethics of CRISPR.

N ~ 1: Alone in the Milky Way

Dr. Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist who works at the Mars Institute, the SETI Institute and the Haughton-Mars Project at the NASA Ames Research Center, makes the case that "we might be it, in the vastness of our galaxy."

Events for the Foodies (or the Science-Reluctant)

The Science of Sundaes

You had me at ice cream scientist. Dr. Maya Warren will teach families how to make their own sweet treats at home and discuss her career as a "real-life ice cream scientist"!

The Science Behind Hand-Pulled Noodles

Members of the Stanford Polymer Collective will make a basic dough and explain how additives like oil, water and salt change the dough's mechanical properties. Participants are encouraged to follow along at home and decide which dough makes the best hand-pulled noodles.

Events for Climate Activists

Bay Area Youth Climate Activism Panel

Get inspired and learn from the young people in the Bay Area who are trying to save our ecosystems.

Wetland Protectors: Our First Line of Defense

Save the Bay will demonstrate why tidal marshlands and native plants are key to flood protection for bayside communities threatened by climate change.

Events at the Frontline of the Pandemic

Behind the Scenes at a COVID-19 Diagnostic Testing Center

You ever wonder what happens after the nose and throat swabs? We'll go inside a lab that's working with UCSF on COVID-19 testing. "Follow a sample from its arrival at the lab, through RNA extraction and amplification, to the end result to reveal if it is positive or negative for the virus."

Exploring Connections Between Cancer and COVID-19

Talk to researchers from the UCSF Cancer Cell Map Initiative (CCMI) and Quantitative Biology Institute Coronavirus Research Group (QBI-QCRG) about the "connections between the mechanisms of cancer and COVID-19."

Events at the Intersection of Race and Science

Cultural Tax: The Cost of Being the Only or the Few

Tyrone Poster, a principal investigator at Boston University, shares insights on the "silent burden" that often accompanies being a Black STEM student and professional.

A Conversation with the Creators of The Nocturnists

The Nocturnists is a medical storytelling community founded by two UCSF physicians. Their audio documentary series "Stories from a Pandemic" and “Black Voices in Healthcare" provide unique first-person accounts from health care workers.

Events for the Creature-Curious

Catch that Critter!

Ever wonder who or what is going bump in the night in your backyard? Here's your chance! Learn how to set up a "wildlife monitoring system and hear about the critters caught on camera at the Cal State East Bay Concord Campus and cameras set up in the Diablo hills. This first event will be a how-two and the second event will give participants the chance to share what they discovered.

A Very Spine-Tingling Spider Screening with KQED’s Deep Look

Yes, this one is a shameless plug! The team behind KQED's own Deep Look video series will present three of their popular spider episodes. Deep Look producers and cinematographers will reveal how they captured the spiders’ behavior on camera and spider experts will be on hand to answer all your arachnid-related questions.

And there are hundreds more events on all variety of subjects: storytelling and COVID, composting, wildfires. Check out the BASF website to see them all.

Editor's Note: KQED is a media sponsor of the Bay Area Science Festival.