The intersection of comedy and science at Atlanta Science Festival's 'Jazz Hands'
When you picture Albert Einstein, is he smiling? The Atlanta Science Festival offers some events at the intersection of science and comedy. “Jazz Hands” is one of those sessions presented by Science for Georgia. Executive director Dr. Amy Sharma joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom, along with Dr. Meisa Salaita, the executive co-director and co-founder of Science ATL, to talk about this year’s Science Festival and its many fun, funny, and fascinating opportunities on offer for the science-curious of all ages.
This year, the Atlanta Science Fest will be back with in-person events, and it’s presenting several outdoor opportunities for learning and exploring. “One of my very last events in 2020, before everything fell apart, was called ‘ID the Trees,’ which is a fabulous walk-in, Mason Mill Park, learning about what the trees are around us,” said Salaita. “We have all sorts of events that we might normally have had indoors, that we’ve moved to the outdoors. So an event that I am excited about is one that is looking at mother nature; ‘Playing Mother Nature: Modeling Extreme Weather Phenomena’ …just looking at earth science and some of the crazy things our planet does.”
Sharma introduced the goals and philosophy of Science for Georgia, the Atlanta Science Fest’s parent organization, born two years ago to promote science education and interest across communities. “Our whole premise is making sure that science is out there serving society,” she said. “We really make sure that no matter what we’re explaining, be it volcanoes or how to clean up the ocean, we give people something very small that they can do to experience that science and apply it in a good way.”
Sharma gave the example of coastal conservation, an intimidating topic that often seems impossible to tackle for most people. “How can I, as just one individual, do anything good?” Sharma posed. “When you talk to experts, they’re like, ‘What we really need is people to fill in their holes when they leave the beach at the end of the day, and we really need them to use less plastic.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s a thing that everyone can do, and that is an evidence-based best practice.’”
Science for Georgia gets real scientists on board with spreading practical knowledge, bringing them in on community events like “Science Tales and Trails” and the Atlanta Science Tavern. “Jazz Hands” takes the idea a step further, creating space for laughter in an approachable atmosphere with real scientists. “When you ask people to name a living scientist, most of the American public cannot. They usually respond, ‘Albert Einstein,’ and spoiler alert: he’s been dead for a while,” Sharma said. “We are not just randos in lab coats, just saying things in dark rooms with no windows, right? We’re out there. We’re your neighbors, we’re the people at the coffee shop, and we’re really trying to do the right thing.”
“Jazz Hands” undertakes a daunting task: injecting humor into the most austere of subjects, like particle physics. “We get about ten [scientists] in a cohort, and we take them all the way from being, you know, just a scientist with a story they want to tell, to someone who has a reasonably funny stand-up routine,” said Sharma. “We teach them about how to write a joke and what people think is funny.”
As an example, she offered, “There’s a lot of things going on in Southeast Georgia around animal waste, right? And so there’s just, like, a plethora of poop jokes out there, and you just have to really embrace them.”
The Atlanta Science Festival takes place March 12-26 at locations all over the city. The “Jazz Hands” scientist stand-up event is on March 23 at Zoo Atlanta’s World Studio space. More information and tickets are available at https://atlantasciencefestival.org/.