Cambridge Science Festival

Posted: April 26th, 2014 under family, science, technology, travel.
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The girls had spring break from school this past week. I planned my vacation from work the same week as the girls’ school break so we could spend that time together, and perhaps take a short trip.

Brent had sent me an email several weeks ago with information about the Cambridge Science Festival, a celebration showcasing the leading edge in science, technology, engineering and math. The weeklong festival occurs every spring, with the purpose of making science accessible, interactive and fun. Brent suggested I take the girls down to attend this. I thought it was a great idea. After looking at the calendar of events, I decided that Wednesday the 23rd of April had the most activities that we would be particularly interested in. The majority of events were held on the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) campus in Cambridge.

My awesome daughters and me on the Downeaster ride home to Maine.

My awesome daughters and me on the Downeaster ride home to Maine.

I made hotel reservations for Wednesday night. I made sure it had an indoor swimming pool, as the girls rarely have the opportunity to swim (other than in the ocean in summertime). I bought four train tickets for the Amtrak Downeaster from Saco, Maine to Boston North Station. I’ve taken this exact train ride many times. This time, however, was much more enjoyable. I was riding with my three wonderful daughters on a fun excursion together; not riding alone as I usually do for an appointment to see my oncologist or have tests done at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Hayley had spent Tuesday night at a local hotel with her friend, just for fun. She had a great time with Tanner and her family, mostly swimming and playing in the hotel pool. Wednesday morning Skye, Jenna and I picked Hayley up from the hotel, then made our traditional pre-Boston stop to Dunkin’ Donuts. I got my usual egg white veggie flatbread sandwich and coffee, and the girls picked out their favorite donuts (Boston Creams are always among everyone’s favorites) and drinks. Our excitement grew as we waited for the train to arrive.

Hayley waits for the Downeaster at the Amtrak station.

Hayley waits for the Downeaster at the Amtrak station.

We were fortunate to find four seats together. The conductor told us the Downeaster was sold out, and that 200 passengers had boarded in Portland alone! It was a nice ride, and the girls enjoyed gazing out the windows, playing games, plugging their devices into the outlets, and being able to get up and move around.

Skye and I sat next to each other on the Downeaster.

Skye and I sat next to each other on the Downeaster.

Hayley and Jenna on the Downeaster to Boston

Hayley and Jenna on the Downeaster to Boston

My girls on the Amtrak Downeaster

My girls on the Amtrak Downeaster

The two-hour train ride seemed to go quickly, and we were soon at the Boston North station. We filled up our Charlie card so we would have plenty of fares for the subway rides. We took the orange line from the North station to Sullivan Square station and walked the several blocks to our hotel, the Holiday Inn in Somerville. It was too early to check in, but we left our bags at the front desk so we wouldn’t have to carry them around with us.

Arriving at the Boston North Station

Arriving at the Boston North Station

Taking the orange line to our hotel

Taking the orange line to our hotel

We exited the hotel, ready to walk back to the subway station. Parked in front was a hotel shuttle, and the driver asked us where we were going. I told him we were walking to the subway station, then added “Our ultimate destination is MIT.” He said he would be happy to drive us directly to MIT. Win! MIT is a pretty large campus, and I asked people several times where the buildings were that had events for the Cambridge Science Festival. It wasn’t the best weather, as it was raining, and a bit chilly and windy. Fortunately Hayley checked the weather ahead of time and suggested we bring our rain jackets, just in case. Smart girl! We eventually found our way to the MIT museum. We paid admission, checked our jackets and bag, then about 5-10 minutes later I realized the presentation and demonstrations at the Center for Ultracold Atoms would be starting soon. We hurried out of the museum, and after a few wrong turns and walking several blocks in the rain, we found the building we wanted.

The girls were good sports about walking several blocks in the rain at the Cambridge Science Festival

The girls were good sports about walking several blocks in the rain at the Cambridge Science Festival

I discarded my soggy map, and we made our way into the crowded room, only a few minutes late. Professor Martin Zwierlein, featured on “NOVA’s Making Stuff:Colder,” was speaking about the science of ultracold atoms. It was quite fascinating. His MIT colleague then demonstrated how atoms behave unexpectedly and extremely low temperatures with a gum-drop model ion trap, a 6-foot tornado simulator, and experiments with liquid neitrogen to see how ultracold temperatures change everyday objects. He demonstrated this by immersing inflated balloons into the liquid nitrogen, then retrieving them seconds later–completely shriveled up as the oxygen atoms had condensed dramatically. As soon as he pulled them back out of the nitrogen, they began to re-inflate as the oxygen expanded due to increased temperature. He also immersed a fresh flower in the liquid nitrogen, and well as mini marshmallows. Watch the video to see what happens. It’s amazing!

A demonstration of the effect of liquid nitrogen on balloons and marshmallows at the Center for Ultracold Atoms at MIT

A demonstration of the effect of liquid nitrogen on balloons and marshmallows at the Center for Ultracold Atoms at MIT

These glass cases with educational material lined the hallways at MIT's Center for Ultracold Atoms.

These glass cases with educational material lined the hallways at MIT’s Center for Ultracold Atoms.

There were supposed to be tours of the labs in the CUA, where cutting edge research is conducted. I would have loved to see the labs, but the tour wasn’t for another 45 minutes, and the girls didn’t want to hang around waiting. So we decided to go back to the museum. The girls and I found the exhibits very interesting. It was, of course, focused on technology. Aircuity founder, Gordon Sharp’s “Cascade Light” in the 5000 Moving Parts exhibition was pretty cool. It’s his first patented invention. It is marketed as “one of the most unusual decorative accessories you will ever own.” Sharp first designed and invented Cascade Light for a Visual Design class when he was a student at the MIT School of Architecture. It is based on research that he observed in an MIT lab, using lightweight particles suspended in a rapidly moving stream of gas to clean smoke from industrial emissions.

Gordon Sharp's Cascade Light at the MIT Museum

Gordon Sharp’s Cascade Light at the MIT Museum

Hayley is fascinated by the robotic arm in the MIT museum's robotics exhibition.

Hayley is fascinated by the robotic arm in the MIT museum’s robotics exhibition.

The original Phantom circuit board at the MIT museum

The original Phantom circuit board at the MIT museum

Description plate for the PHANTOM

Description plate for the PHANTOM


Hayley and Skye test out the flywheels of the "To Conjugate" sculpture.

Hayley and Skye test out the flywheels of the “To Conjugate” sculpture.

This was posted by the "To Conjugate" display in the 5000 Moving Parts exhibit of the MIT museum.

This was posted by the “To Conjugate” display in the 5000 Moving Parts exhibit of the MIT museum.

Because there were no more events scheduled for the Science Festival that day that really interested the girls, we decided to take advantage of our annual pass to the New England Aquarium. Jenna especially has been wanting to go. Government Center station is closed down for the next couple years, so we ended up taking several trains to get to our destination. We got on the red line at Central station, switched to the orange line at Downtown Crossing station, then to the blue line at State Street station, and finally to the Aquarium station. Fortunately they were mostly short rides, and both Jenna and Hayley said riding the T (subway) was one of their favorite parts about Boston.

Heading to Central Station to take the T to the aquarium

Heading to Central Station to take the T to the aquarium

Our first stop at the Aquarium was the ray shark and ray touch tank, as it usually is. The girls love “petting” the rays as they swim by. We then went down to see the amazing jelly fish. This is probably my favorite exhibit. We took the winding walk around the giant ocean tank to the very top, stopping every so often to observe the unique and interesting ocean creatures. As always, it was an enjoyable and interesting visit. And Jenna was happy, as she got her wish. :-)

The jellies are one of Jenna's favorite exhibits at the aquarium.

The jellies are one of Jenna’s favorite exhibits at the aquarium.

Hayley points out interesting fish in the Giant Ocean Tank.

Hayley points out interesting fish in the Giant Ocean Tank.

A giant sea turtle in the Giant Ocean Tank

A giant sea turtle in the Giant Ocean Tank

My capture of the little African penguins was photobombed by a huge whale skeleton ;-)

My capture of the little African penguins was photobombed by a huge whale skeleton ;-)

We ended our aquarium tour and agreed it was a good time to check in to the hotel, have dinner, and swim. The hotel was a bit fancier than where we usually stay, and Hayley told me she preferred the less extravagant places because they felt more warm, comfortable and “homey.” We did have a nice room on the seventh floor with a great view of Boston from our window. I wasn’t interested in eating at the hotel restaurant, so we walked across the street to a local pizza/sub take-out restaurant. I ordered a Greek salad (my favorite), Skye and Jenna shared a pizza, and Hayley got a beef & mushroom sub. We ate in our room and then suited up for the pool.

A view of Boston from our hotel room (7th floor). Notice the Zakim bridge (left) and Custom House Tower (center).

A view of Boston from our hotel room (7th floor). Notice the Zakim bridge (left) and Custom House Tower (center).

Skye and her "dinner of champions."

Skye and her “dinner of champions.”

The girls and I were taken by surprise by the hotel sport & fitness center. It was awesome! In addition to the pool, it included a sports area with a ping-pong table, foosball table, bumper pool table, basketball sport court, and 12-foot rock climbing wall. The lounge chairs around the pool and in the cabana area were very nice and wicked comfortable. I actually swam in the pool for over an hour (a long time for me). It was so much fun hanging out with the girls in the pool, and playing ping-pong and foosball with them. I even tried shooting a few baskets in the court. I realized just how weak my muscles have become since my body was ravaged by cortisol and Cushing’s. I barely had the strength to get the basketball to the rim. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the various activities in which the girls and I engaged.

Ping pong table in the hotel sport & fitness center

Ping pong table in the hotel sport & fitness center

The recreation center at the hotel was very nice!

The recreation center at the hotel was very nice!

A quick shot of Skye, my beautiful 14-year-old. :-)

A quick shot of Skye, my beautiful 14-year-old. :-)

Skye models her new bikini.

Skye models her new bikini.

Girls in the pool

Girls in the pool

Skye in the pool

Skye in the pool

Hayley and Jenna enjoyed an exciting and competitive game of foosball.

Hayley and Jenna enjoyed an exciting and competitive game of foosball.

Jenna and Hayley tried out the rock climbing wall several times.

Jenna and Hayley tried out the rock climbing wall several times.

Jenna on the rock climbing wall in the sport & fitness center

Jenna on the rock climbing wall in the sport & fitness center

Hayley made several shots in the mini basketball court in the by the pool.

Hayley made several shots in the mini basketball court by the pool.

I bought pool water guns before our trip. The girls had a great time with them.

I bought pool water guns before our trip. The girls had a great time with them.

The sport & fitness center was supposed to close at 9pm. We’d been enjoying it for about 2 1/2 hours when it was approaching 9pm. The lifeguard (yes, there was a lifeguard) approached me and said that he noticed we came in late and offered to stay there an extra hour for us. So nice! Of course the girls were happy to stay till 10pm. They enjoyed every last minute.

The next morning we walked to Dunkin’ Donuts to get breakfast, and then returned to the sport & fitness center at the hotel when it opened at 9am. The girls swam for an hour before we packed up and checked out with plenty of time to catch our 11:30am train home to Saco. This time we found four seats on the Downeaster across from each other. We stretched out our legs and enjoyed the relaxing ride home. I’m so glad I took the girls on this trip! I wish Brent could have come with us. But it was great getting out of town and spending quality time with the girls. I sure do love them! And I love being a mom.

The passenger across from us on the Downeaster was kind enough to take our picture.

The passenger across from us on the Downeaster was kind enough to take our picture.

The girls were a bit tired and worn out from our Boston activities and late night.

The girls were a bit tired and worn out from our Boston activities and late night.

...and the tired, worn-out girls fell asleep.

…and the tired, worn-out girls fell asleep.



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