Brian Greene, a Columbia physics professor and author of The Elegant Universe, and his wife, Tracy Day, an Emmy-winning documentary producer, gathered up the city’s Nobel laureates (and Alan Alda!) and had them put together the coolest presentations they could devise. Thus the World Science Festival was born. The festival kicks off May 28 and runs for five days. But what exactly is festive about science? We called them to find out.
Tracy Day: The point of this isn’t about doing a science fair — you know, Wow, isn’t science cool and fun? — with balloons and exclamation points.
New York: But we love exclamation points! And wait, no balloons?
Brian Greene It’s an effort to bring real science across with integrity, but make it accessible and compelling and exciting and inspirational. We want the festival to reach the person to whom you say “science” and they run under a rock. For instance, at the Guggenheim, we’ll have a program where physics is being interpreted by a choreographer and a composer. And Alan Alda is doing a new piece called Dear Albert, which stitches together the correspondences of Albert Einstein to his wives and his kids, following his struggles to discover relativity. It humanizes him.
New York: Alan Alda is such a Renaissance man. He’s a good writer, too. Anyway, where did the idea come from?
Brian Greene We went to the Science Festival in Genoa, and the excitement of science spilling out into the streets of old Genoa was so palpable that we stood there in the main square and realized that to pull off something like this in New York could have a spectacular impact.
Tracy Day: So we started road testing the idea with Nobel laureates.
Brian Greene: Across the board, they said, “This is so important; we want to be part of this.”
New York: So what’s the benefit to a nonscience geek in showing up? Like, my editors at Daily Intel don’t even know where the Internet comes from.
Brian Greene: Is it a sensible question to ask, What’s the benefit of listening to music or going to theater or going to an art museum or reading great literature? Science is the same. I’ve seen it happen a thousand times: A whole new realm of thought opens up, and they get it, and, wow, their whole life can shift in a significant way.
New York: It would probably be better with balloons. Just saying. — Arianne Cohen