WEEKEND EDITION

World Science Festival’s Innovation Square — So Cool!

| June 20, 2012 4:00 AMvideo


For the World Science Festival in June, MetroTech Center in Downtown Brooklyn was transformed for one day into “Innovation Square,” a vision of the future complete with a robot petting zoo, demonstrations of quantum levitation and the chance to virtually travel through space.

A child plays with a humanoid robot at the World Science Festival's Innovation Square event on June 2, 2012 at MetroTech Center in Brooklyn. Photo by Esha Ray.

Innovation Square, an event held as part of the 2012 World Science Festival in New York City on June 2nd, gave science and tech enthusiasts a chance to look at some of the next generation innovations happening around the world. MetroTech Center is home to the NYU Polytechnic-Institute, as well as other businesses, so it was not surprising to see many NYU-Poly professors and research teams participating in Saturday’s event.

“No other place in Brooklyn better embodies the spirit of innovation than NYU-Poly, where technologies that make life easier, safer and certainly more fun are becoming real every day,” said Jerry Hutlin, NYU-Poly President, in a press release.

Participants included Brooklyn’s own Genspace, a non-profit organization that promotes and provides education in biotechnology and molecular biology across all ages. Curious audience members were invited to create bacteria paintings and take a tour of the Genspace labs on Flatbush Avenue, a few blocks away from MetroTech Center.

“We had tons of people at our booth who were super-excited,” said Oliver Medvedik, co-founder and director of Scientific Programs at Genspace, in an email. “We had materials for exactly 150 hands-on projects involving bacterial plates and we ran out in the end.” The very idea of painting with bacteria seemed to attract a large crowd of children, who worked diligently to decorate small Petri dishes with their name, landscape scenes, and other works of art.

“I’ve found that usually a lot of exhibits at science festivals either do not bring out the very latest tech or merely present simulations of the most recent work,” said Medvedik, “So to have the actual work presented makes a big difference for the participants.”

Scientist Boaz Almog describes quantum levitation at MetroTech Center during the World Science Festival's Innovation Square day on June 2, 2012. Photo by Esha Ray.

Perhaps the most popular attraction of the afternoon was the Quantum Levitation exhibit, hosted by Boaz Almog and his research team from Tel Aviv University. Using liquid nitrogen and a superconductor disc surrounded by a magnetic field, Almog wowed audiences when the disc was able to float in mid-air and spin rapidly around a large, circular table. According to Almog, this phenomenon has been known to physicists for quite some time, but has yet to be applied in the real world. Hypothetically, he says, this phenomenon could save energy used in transportation if the vehicle is kept cold enough, and give consumer cars the ability to float and travel above the ground. The process however, is complicated, and countries around the world are currently experimenting with a similar idea called “Maglev”, or magnetic levitation, trains.

While crowds gravitated to the outdoor activities in the MetroTech Center plaza, Innovation Square also held panel discussions throughout the day in the NYU-Poly Dibner Auditorium. Among the speakers was Kent Larson, co-director of the City Science Initiative at the MIT Media Laboratory, with a revolutionary idea – the foldable car.

“The question is how to get rid of private vehicles and introduce shared vehicles,” said Larson, “but the problem is that the right vehicles don’t really exist at the moment.” Larson proposed a “mobility-on-demand” system using an invention called the “CityCar”, a shareable, contractible vehicle that would save parking space and respond to the ever-increasing population of cities. But it doesn’t stop there — Larson proposed this same idea to shrink apartment space with movable walls and retractable furniture, as well as indoor lighting that responds and changes to a person’s position in a room.

Larson’s work has been published in a variety of architecture publications, and his book Louis I. Kahn: Unbuilt Masterworks was chosen as one of the “Ten Best Books in Architecture” in 2000 by the New York Times Book Review.

Children playing with serpentine robot during Innovation Square on June 2, 2012. Photo by Esha Ray.

Probably one of the more curious exhibits of Innovation Square was the robotic petting zoo, showcasing new innovations in understanding animal behavior. SmartBird, a robotic flying bird designed by Festo Bionics, soared over the plaza, causing adults and wide-eyed children to clap with delight.

NYU-Poly’s own mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Maurizio Porfiri, and his team from the Dynamic Systems Laboratory, showcased new research on robotic fish. Their work revolves around understanding underwater animal behavior and using mathematical models to design animal-safe underwater vehicles.

“People were really excited about our research and it felt great to share our latest findings in a beautiful day in Brooklyn,” said Porfiri. While adults talked science with Porfiri and his team, the children were more excited to touch and play with the fish and control submarines through an iPad, as if playing make-believe in the bathtub.

Innovation Square was only one of the several World Science Festival events, including Science-on-Site: Explorations in Brooklyn Bridge Park, a family-friendly exploration of marine life, botany, and stargazing.

“We feel that science is something to be seen, felt and experienced with all of our five senses — not just something we read about in a book or have to envision with our imaginations,” said Katherine Drew, director of Media Distribution and Partnerships at the World Science Festival, “Innovation Square is a hands-on wonderland for curious minds of all ages. We encourage people to go out and really experience the wonder and thrill of seeing science up-close and in action.”

World Science Festival's Innovation Square at MetroTech Center plaza on June 2, 2012. Photo by Esha Raye.

For more technology news, watch “MetroFocus: The Tech Economy,” airing on THIRTEEN on June 30 at 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. and July 12 at 8:30 p.m.; on WLIW at 5:30 a.m. on June 30; on NJTV on July 1 at 5:30 a.m. and July 2 at 4:30 a.m.

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