William Leggett of the National Park Service led a geology hike during the Festival of Science in 2018. [Photo courtesy of the Festival of Science] 

The Moab Festival of Science returns this year for a celebration and showcase of local science based on the Colorado Plateau.

The five-day festival will feature multiple speakers, hikes, and activities, with a keynote presentation by Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University. Hayhoe will discuss her new book, “Saving Us: A Climate Scientists’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World.”

“We want everybody to be able to share in the joy of science and scientific discovery,” said Sasha Reed, who is part of the committee that puts together the Festival of Science each year. “We try to put together events that we think are the most timely and most interesting and most exciting.”

This year, Reed said, those events focused a lot on fire and climate change. Hayhoe’s keynote presentation is particularly exciting for the festival because first, she’s an intelligent and important climate scientist, and second, because the fame and caliber of people who are coming to present at the festival just “keeps going up,” Reed said.

Holding certain festival events online helps with that as well—the festival has the opportunity to become globally relevant.

“It’s so cool when we can offer attendance to people around the world,” Reed said.

This year, the committee struggled with balancing the number of events—they always want to do more.

Tim Graham, another committee member, helps to find speakers. Usually, he finds people through word of mouth or through his “oddball” connections in the scientific community, he said. He always tries to find new people to come, which makes it challenging to pace himself in who to recruit.

“If anything, I feel like I’m interested in too much,” he said. He’s already planning speakers for festivals in the future.

“It’s mostly a matter of, can we get something new, and can we do enough to make [the festival] be a draw?” said Graham. “It’s been so successful that we’re having trouble limiting it.”

The purpose of the festival is to spread knowledge, Graham said. But the festival does try to remain relevant to and prioritize the Moab community.

“We want this to be a set of events that really speak to, and provide information for our locals,” Reed said. “It’s really one of our central goals to serve Moab as a resource for being able to access all different kinds of science. We’re really passionate about science, about how amazing it is, and we want to share that with Moab.”

Each event is free, and festival attendees can attend as many as they would like.

The festival kicks off on Wednesday, Sept. 22 with a presentation about bats and echolocation by Scott Gibson of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. On Thursday, Dr. Martin Fisk from Oregon State University will discuss astrobiology and the potential for the existence of life somewhere else in the universe. There will also be a screening of the 2020 documentary “Picture a Scientist,” which focuses on the challenges that face women scientists. A discussion panel will follow.

Friday will feature a live interview with local nonprofit Science Moab and Lyle Balenquah, a Hopi archaeologist; a discussion on the Pack Creek wildfire by Zachary Lowe and Daniel Lay, who both work at the U.S. Forest Service; the “Moab Mingle,” a social event on the Museum of Moab lawn; an astronomy tour by guide Crystal White; and the keynote presentation by Katharine Hayhoe.

Activities on Saturday include guided walks with scientists and children’s activities. William Leggett, who works at the National Park Service, will lead a guided geology walk along Moab’s Old Mill Trail; Dr. Steve Leavitt, an assistant professor and curator of the Lichen Herbarium at Brigham Young University, will lead a lichen walk along Brumley Creek Trail.

Saturday children’s activities include “STEMonstrations,” which will have multiple booths with hands-on science activities and a nature bingo walk along Mill Creek Parkway. There will also be two speakers: Jim Kirkland, a paleontologist at Utah State University, will discuss how he found and named the Utahraptor; and Dr. Bruce Bugbee, a professor at USU, will talk about NASA research for food production on Mars.

On Sunday, Dr. Steve Leavitt will lead another lichen walk at Sand Flats, and there will also be festival trivia presented by KZMU.

“I’ve been impressed by what we’ve been able to do from the beginning, and the passion of our community,” Reed said. “We have such a community that’s interested in science. Science is really a joy for the people that we live with, and so it’s just a fun set of events. From the very first year, we’ve been excited about how excited people are about what’s going on.”

More information about when and where events are is available at https://moab-scifest.org/. Some events have limited space—to reserve a spot, email moab.scifest@gmail.com.

What: The Moab Festival of Science

When: Wednesday, Sept. 22 to Sept. 26

Where: Various locations across Moab

More information and a full line-up of events can be found at https://moab-scifest.org/