The 2020 Virginia Tech Science Festival is going to look different this year, going online to a virtual format in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

At 10 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 7, the Science Festival will debut about 50 videos online, featuring a wide variety of learning activities that showcase dozens of science education and research programs from throughout the university. Among the videos will be two-way conversations between scientists and learners that festival organizers created by hosting teleconferenced Meetups between classrooms and scientists before the official festival date. Edited videos of these teleconferences will be unveiled to the public on the festival day. As well, Miss America Camille Schrier, a Virginia Tech alumna of biochemistry and systems biology, has recorded a special greeting to open the day’s events.

As in years past, the Science Festival is hosted by Virginia Tech and the Science Museum of Western Virginia.

“Science is bigger than you think,” said Phyllis Newbill, festival chair and outreach and engagement coordinator with Virginia Tech’s Center for Educational Networks and Impacts (CENI). “The festival team has enjoyed strengthening relationships between Virginia Tech and schools and teachers during the leadup to the festival. We’ve interacted with more than 500 children in classes and clubs from Scott County to Northumberland County.

“Science is a way of thinking and includes social sciences, arts about science, science about arts, humanities based on data, business based on data, and much more. As we move online this year, we have an opportunity to show our community the breadth and depth of the work we do at Virginia Tech to far bigger audience than ever before. Any child in the world with WiFi or an internet connection will see how science is more essential than ever as we continue to use science, research, and data to stem the halt of this historic virus.”

The Virginia Tech Science Festival is not the first university aimed at education children about STEM to move online this year. In October, the wildly popular Hokie BugFest also recalibrated itself virtually.

The videos will be sorted by age, with each meetup designed for a particular learner group — a class or club so the conversations tend to be targeted at the age of that group, Newbill said. Festival visitors can email if they have questions for the scientists and researchers, Newbil added.

The videos will remain on the website through the spring. “We hope teachers and other grownups who work with children will find them useful and fun for a long time to come,” Newbill said. 

The Science Festival is also partnering this year with Virginia Cooperative Extension to offer free Mars Base Camp kits to leaders of Virginia Tech Science Festival learner groups. Developed by Google and Virginia Cooperative Extension, Mars Base Camp is a collection of activities that teaches kids ages 8-14 STEM such skills as mechanical engineering, physics, computer science, and agriculture.

Also moving online this year will be the Nutshell Games. During this event, Virginia Tech graduate students each have 90 seconds to present their research to the audience at this friendly science communication competition. Three winners, determined by a panel of judges to have been the most engaging and to have communicated their research the most clearly, will each receive a $500 prize. Videos will be unveiled at 3:30 p.m. Nutshell Games winners will be announced live at 5:45 p.m. 

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