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Sciences the Focus for Upcoming 3rd Thursday

Berkshire STEM Pipeline Network

Pittsfield’s upcoming 3rd Thursday will showcase the best of Berkshire County’s science and technology initiatives.

“There’s going to be robots, rockets, rocket launchers, an air cannon, and one of my personal favorites, the Mentos and soda-pop experiment," said the city’s Cultural Development Director Megan Whilden.

Sampling the tastiest food and drink Pittsfield has to offer may be overshadowed by the focus on math and science, and by one particular attraction that’s brand new to the monthly event. The inflatable 10-foot tall, 16-foot diameter portable planetarium from the Berkshire STEM Pipeline Network will be on display.

Dr. Christopher Himes is the Program Manager for STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.  It’s part of a statewide initiative to encourage kids to seek studies and careers in science-related areas. He says it will be a new experience having the general public inside StarLab, which he described as a big, silver, duck-taped dome.

“We’re going to look at constellations and talk about what the night sky is going to look like at 10 o’clock on Thursday night, and be able to talk about constellations and positions of the stars and a little bit about what astronomy is," said Himes.

There will be 25 stands set up along North St. for visitors to interact with local companies and organizations including General Dynamics, SABIC, and the Berkshire Medical Center, which will showcase an exhibit on robotic surgery. Himes says those in the STEM partnership are used to sponsoring academic events like career and science fairs, but being part of 3rd Thursday will be a different atmosphere with a broader audience.

"It’s really to show that science is this interactive process and it’s not just something you have to learn to from a textbook," he said. "There are cool things out there. There are cool things you can do. This is to give families, kids, parents, and adults a taste of what is science and what’s happening in Berkshire County.”

SABIC’s global headquarters for Innovative Plastics is based in Pittsfield. It was the developing force behind planning the day’s events. Spokesman Jason Forget says company volunteers will lead unique hands-on experiments.

“We'll be giving attendees the chance to play with a Non-Newtonian Fluid, also known as Oobleck, which is a unique material made primarily of corn starch that behaves as both a solid and liquid at room temperature," said Forget.

Whilden says she expects anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 people to flock to downtown Pittsfield for the street festival. She says jobs and careers not usually associated with science and math will show how the fields affect almost every aspect of our lives.

“There will be firemen taking about the science of fire prevention, the Pittsfield Police Department will be talking about the science involved in their work, and the banks will be talking about how important math is," said Whilden.

The combination of the different demonstrations, activities, and experiments may have an interesting effect on those who come.

“It’s going to bring out the inner nerd in the best possible way in everyone," said Whilden.

While past 3rd Thursdays have featured themes specific to each month, like baseball or under the sea, Whilden offered her idea for a future theme. She would like to add the arts to the STEM formula, making it STEAM.

“The arts component trains people to be very curious, very creative, and very disciplined," she said. "That infuses other career choices for the kind of creativity that will make for really amazing discoveries and leaps forward."

Thursday will also feature performances by Mad Scientist Jazz Ambassadors and the Science Music Road Show, along with a screening of the 1980s cult classic film Weird Science at the Beacon Cinema at 7:30 p.m. The event runs from 5 to 8 p.m. in downtown Pittsfield.