COSI Science Festival will be digital affair again amid pandemic

Stephen Borgna
ThisWeek group
COSI president and CEO Dr. Frederic Bertley, NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock and Dr. Marla Perez-Davis, director of NASA's John H. Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, hold a digital discussion as part of COSI's digital science festival last year.

COSI wasn’t able to hold its annual science festival at a physical location last year due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, so its leaders opted to go online and produce a digital festival.

It'll be online again this year.

Last year’s digital festival turned out to be a success, and COSI, officially the Center of Science and Industry, opted to return to the digital format May 5-8 with the pandemic still ongoing. 

“Even though events still look a little different due to the pandemic, the COSI Science Festival continues to grow,” Dr. Frederic Bertley, president and CEO of COSI, said in a media release.

According to Bertley, the 2020 virtual festival “impacted” more than 116,000 people – up from 40,000 in 2019.

“We look forward to when we can host an in-person festival again, but we are grateful for the tremendous opportunity to serve a wider audience through virtual offerings," Bertley said in the release. “We are working with our festival partners to create engaging digital science content for people to enjoy at home.”

Following last year’s successful digital implementation, COSI, 333 W. Broad St. in Columbus, plans to ramp up this year’s free online festival with more events and features, according to Josh Sarver, COSI vice president of experiences and operations. 

“We took all that experience we had in year two when we went digital, and this year we’ve created a new experience that’s even bigger and better,” Sarver said. 

Digital events this year have increased from 37 to more than 50, touching on various elements of STEM, he said. 

COSI also will try to re-create the physical event space as best as it can. On May 8, online visitors will be able to fly over COSI virtually using a mobile device or laptop and click on any one of more than 100 virtual tents or booths to see a video “about a hands-on activity or how STEM is embedded in a career,” Sarver said. 

Sarver said Ohio State University, Huntington Bank and Honda are among those that have provided videos for this series. 

“It’s really exciting how we’ve been able to take the last year and really think about, ‘How can you create a virtual experience that still captures the excitement of a physical festival?’” Sarver said. “Even though we can’t have it physically, our digital doors and experiences are going to be open. So we’re really excited about those things that we have to offer.” 

COSI also will distribute its Learning Lunch Boxes as part of the festival. 

The Learning Lunch Boxes are a STEM kit program geared to children who had started in July 2020 as COSI was looking for ways to engage the community with its building remaining closed, according to Alex Wilkins, COSI strategic programs and projects manager.

Wilkins said COSI received funding through Franklin County to distribute the kits to underserved children and families, with the kits traditionally distributed with meal-distribution providers. 

“As the pandemic starts to exacerbate differences between people who have resources and people who don’t, we’re really trying to target those families that are underserved and kids who need access to science education,” Wilkins said. 

The lunchboxes to be distributed as part of the festival will include five activities with a space theme produced in partnership with NASA, Wilkins said. Activities will include teaching how to build a rocket with a balloon and a straw, an activity centered on impact craters and others. 

Wilkins said COSI has distributed approximately 24,000 kits to date, with 10,000 to be distributed as part of the festival. Wilkins said some of the kits are being delivered directly to schools and communities. 

“We hope that these kids are engaging with the science and that it’s inspiring them,” Wilkins said. “Really, at the end of the day, our goal is for them to see that science is something that is fun and is something they can do and participate in.” 

The city of Columbus and various surrounding municipalities have partnered with COSI for the festival. Other corporate sponsors include AEP through its AEP Foundation, Facebook and Discover. 

“I hope (digital attendees) take away that here’s something available for them,” Sarver said. “Whether they’re sitting at home with their family or friends or they’re an adult – 21 and up – there’s an experience for you. 

“Check it out, see all the digital events that we have and the virtual experience and explore everything that’s available and maybe find something that captures your attention and your excitement.” 

For more information, go to cosiscifest.org

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve