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Science on Main Street: Using Scientific Significance to Instill Community Pride


June 27, 2023 | Science on Main Street: Using Scientific Significance to Instill Community Pride  | By: Vai Reddy-Kruse, MainStreet Events and Social Engagement Coordinator, Los Alamos Main Street and Jacquelyn Connolly, Executive Director, Los Alamos MainStreet & Creative District

A young girl examines the inner workings of a daisy flower at the National Park Service's annual booth at Science Fest. PC: National Park Services
Photo provided by
Los Alamos MainStreet. Picture Credit: National Park Service.

This month, we are exploring how different Main Street communities have incorporated science into their events and promotions. For some, the word “science” can intimidate, evoking memories of heavy textbooks and high school chem labs. The truth is, though, science is everywhere – even on our Main Streets. And inviting residents and visitors to experience science doesn’t have to mean breaking out the test tubes, either – instead, we can help foster meaningful and memorable experiences within our communities as they reimagine and expand their relationship with science outside of the traditional classroom setting.    
Today's story features Los Alamos, New Mexico – where Main Street leaders and residents have used the town's fascinating history to create a hugely successful week-long ScienceFest, going 16 years strong and counting.
In the heart of Los Alamos, New Mexico, a small town with a rich scientific heritage, the annual Los Alamos ScienceFest has emerged as a catalyst for the revitalization of the commercial district. Los Alamos holds a prominent place in scientific history as the birthplace of the atomic bomb during World War II and will take center-stage in acclaimed film director Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” out this July. Partially filmed in Los Alamos and the downtown Historic District, the movie features the famous American scientist and his role as the first director of the Los Alamos Laboratory.   

Los Alamos ScienceFest started 16 years ago as the Next Big Idea Festival, and has since grown to a more than week-long celebration of the science and innovation for which the community of Los Alamos, “Where Discoveries Are Made,” is known. The festival not only attracts visitors from far and wide for hands-on science demonstrations, scientific and cultural discussions and activities, but also plays a significant role in highlighting the historic and scientific charm of the town through special historic walking tours of the Los Alamos Historic District, its centrally located (and free) Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos History Museum, and more. The town’s proximity as the gateway to three national parks all within a 30-minute drive -- Bandelier National Monument, Valles Caldera National Preserve, and the Manhattan Project National Historical Park -- makes Los Alamos an appealing focal point and visitor destination to further explore the rich natural history and culture of the region as well.


Preserving Historical Significance


The town's historic significance and cutting-edge science is an essential part of Los Alamos’ identity. Los Alamos ScienceFest recognizes and celebrates its heritage, highlighting the scientific accomplishments and contributions that have shaped the town's character. By integrating historic elements into the festival, such as guided tours of historic sites and presentations by and about renowned scientists, ScienceFest effectively preserves the town's rich history, while continuing to promote its cutting-edge science. Through engaging activities, community and regional partnerships, Los Alamos ScienceFest is breathing new life into the commercial district, fostering economic growth and community pride. Guided walking tours offered by the Los Alamos Historical Society will also have special emphasis on WWII at certain times during ScienceFest. Locals and visitors can be transported back to the 1940s with music, dance and fashion during the Los Alamos Big Band Dance on Sunday, July 9 at Historic Fuller Lodge, a focal point in the historic downtown, and features music from one of the community’s oldest organizations. Through a series of Oppenheimer-themed business specials produced by the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce and Los Alamos MainStreet, the public can find ways to shop, dine and experience Los Alamos County while taking a piece of history with them. 


Partnerships and Collaboration


A key factor in ScienceFest's success is its collaborative approach. Los Alamos MainStreet actively engages with local businesses, organizations, and educational institutions, forging strong partnerships that enhance the event's impact on the community. These collaborations result in
 a wide range of activities, including science-themed art exhibits, lectures, and workshops, transforming the commercial district into a hub of scientific exploration. By involving the community and leveraging its collective expertise, ScienceFest creates a dynamic and inclusive atmosphere, further enhancing the town's appeal. 
This year, some of Sciencefest’s partners include the Los Alamos County Library system, several historical and science-forward museums and local clubs like the Pajarito Astronomers. The largest day of Los Alamos ScienceFest, “Discovery Day” on Saturday, July 8, will feature dozens of hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) exhibits, food, live music and activities including a Drone Zone, Electric Vehicle Show hosted by Pajarito Environmental Education Center, demonstrations from local and regional organizations such as Explora Science Center, Santa Fe Children’s Museum, Kraz-E-Science, Project Y robotics team, the local chapter of the American Chemical Society, groups working out of Los Alamos National Laboratory, and more. That same day, locals and visitors can attend an opening reception at Fuller Lodge Art Center Main Gallery, “Fractals, Fusion & Fission Art.” Families can engage with Robot Dog during a Family Summer Evening event on July 12 at the Los Alamos Nature Center, or partake in a Dark Night Sky event July 15 at scenic White Rock Overlook Park with the Pajarito Astronomers. The Laboratory will also highlight a special technology showcase and demo day on July 17 as part of ScienceFest, featuring scientist talks and roundtable discussions on topics ranging from biotech and aerospace, to clean energy transition. 
MainStreet hopes to promote and encourage year-round activities and events by giving its partners a platform to launch through ScienceFest.


Preservation-Based Development

Los Alamos ScienceFest goes beyond being a mere celebration of science; it is also a platform for promoting preservation-based development. Recognizing the importance of preserving the town's historical architecture and character, the festival actively supports initiatives that focus on the history of the town. Simple measures like renaming ScienceFest sponsorship tiers after famous local scientists, and significant partnerships such as collaborating with the Los Alamos Historical Society, contribute to preserving the town’s unique identity. This year’s festival also includes a documentary-rich Manhattan Project Film Series at SALA Event Center, running from July 1-20, with film pass proceeds benefiting the historic preservation, renovation and exhibit development of the historic house where Oppenheimer lived. This focus on preservation-based development ensures that the town retains its unique identity and charm while simultaneously fostering a vibrant business environment. By encouraging adaptive reuse and supporting the renovation of historic properties, ScienceFest helps bring awareness of the ongoing revitalization of the commercial and historic districts.

Community Engagement and Pride

Los Alamos ScienceFest has become a source of community pride, uniting residents around a shared passion for science and creative innovation. Through its engaging and inclusive programming, the festival encourages active participation from community members of all ages and fosters a sense of belonging and excitement among residents. This year, ScienceFest is expanding to include Play Crawl: STEAM for Adults! on July 15 around downtown Los Alamos. Strong community engagement not only promotes a vibrant and welcoming atmosphere but also encourages residents to support local businesses and contribute to the town's overall prosperity. 
Los Alamos has a large arts and cultural community, and many of the first organizations and clubs that were formed during the Manhattan Project represent the creative pursuits of its science community. Yet this aspect of the community is still primed for growth and exploration as a local and regional economic driver. In this spirit, a photographic installation will feature downtown, enlivening an empty storefront with stunning images by photographer, Minesh Bacrania. His “Behind-the-Fence” series, highlights spaces on the laboratory’s property that will never be seen by most of the general public. His work will also appear in the summer issue of Smithsonian Magazine, one of the series’ sponsors.
During the ScienceFest event, Discovery Day, SALA Event Center, in partnership with cutting-edge tech companies like SciVista and SimTable, will demonstrate an immersive experience featuring virtual reality, interactive simulations and floor games. This exhibit will highlight one of the business’s goals of supporting large scale digital artwork and experience. It is currently in the process of retrofitting one of the venue’s theaters for this purpose.  
Los Alamos ScienceFest has emerged as a powerful force in preserving and revitalizing the commercial district of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Through its celebration of scientific achievements, collaborations with local businesses and organizations, and commitment to preservation-based development, the festival is successfully reviving the town's historic charm while stimulating economic growth. As this annual event continues to evolve and inspire, it will undoubtedly play a vital role in the ongoing preservation and revitalization efforts of this remarkable town. Los Alamos ScienceFest stands as a testament to the power of community-driven initiatives in nurturing economic development and preserving the historic significance of a destination.


For more Science on Main Street stories, click here and here.