Aconcagua

Kyle Maynard climbs Aconcagua with custom-made Kahtoola crampons.

David Pergolini

The Flagstaff Festival of Science.

Ten days. 100 events. All free.

It’s hard to overstate just how amazing it is that a city the size of Flagstaff is about to stage an event that even the nation’s largest cities cannot manage to pull off. But pull it off we do, and usually bigger and better than the year before.

The festival, now in its 28th year, starts Friday with keynoter Kyle Maynard, a mountaineer who was born without lower arms and legs. Maynard combines the can-do attitude that scientists and engineers bring to technical obstacles (kudos to Kahtoola!) with a drive for adventure and conquest that has taken him to the top of the world’s highest peaks. Free tickets will be available at the door of Ardrey on a first-come, first-served basis, with a pre-talk interpretive dance starting at 7 p.m. Be prepared to be amazed and inspired.

And that’s just the first day. The festival has come to be one of Flagstaff’s signature events each year, appealing to young and old, scientist and amateur. It has lectures and hands-on activities as well as open houses that let residents get up close with the scientists who drive these institutions. They include the National Weather Service, Flagstaff Medical Center, the Fort Valley Experimental Station, Lowell Observatory, NAU Campus Observatory, NACET, CCC, Walnut Canyon, Meteor Crater, USGS, Sunset Crater, Wupatki, the Arboretum, MNA, Pioneer Museum and Willow Bend.

Support from businesses, nonprofits and individuals makes the Flagstaff Festival of Science possible and free to all. Supernova Friends of the Festival include Northern Arizona University, the City of Flagstaff BBB tax revenues, Flagstaff Arts Council, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, the Arizona Community Foundation of Flagstaff, W. L. Gore & Associates, Peaks Audio and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. But the list of financial supporters doesn’t end there – nearly a hundred backers are listed in this year’s program. For an up-close look at one of them – W.L. Gore – as it celebrates 50 years in Flagstaff, see Sunday’s Arizona Daily Sun.

And what happens after the festival ends? Many local scientists are regularly in the Flagstaff schools as presenters and tutors – Flagstaff is the first international STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) City. And Flagstaff’s science “industry” is very big business, both now and in the future. Biosciences, healthcare, digital products, astronomy and advanced manufacturing — all with roots in science — are the top industries the city is targeting, in large part because they pay higher wages.

Lowell’s Discovery Telescope alone is projected to have a $570 million impact over the next 40 years. There’s also the U.S. Naval Observatory, with an estimated $10 million annual impact, and the U.S. Geological Survey, with a $30 million impact, including its astrogeology unit and its ties to NASA. NAU has also recently created a Ph.D. program in astronomy in partnership with Lowell.

The biosciences are another big scientific and economic sector, employing more than 5,000 in Flagstaff, including W.L. Gore, Flagstaff Medical Center, NAU’s departments and programs in those areas, and smaller companies like TGen North and SenesTech.

NAU’s total research grants each year, many involving science, amount to up to $35 million, and the goal is to hit $47 million by 2024. Some of the subsequent research goes into new startups through Flagstaff’s business accelerator, which is projected to create $20 million in new investment and 300 jobs in the next five years.

And in most cases, companies in those fields won’t have to look far for qualified employees. NAU has top-notch programs in a range of scientific fields, and some of its top faculty, like geneticist Paul Keim, are the reason companies are investing in new businesses and seeking research partnerships.

So as we celebrate the excitement that the Flagstaff Festival of Science brings to our Mountain Town, remember that it is a gift that keeps on giving every day – and growing. Science and discovery produce as many questions as they help answer, but it’s that desire to understand, that curiosity and wonderment at how the world works and how we can make it work better, that we celebrate in Flagstaff — not just this coming week but every day of the year.

For more information on all events, see the printed festival program that was distributed Sunday in the Daily Sun and is available at numerous locations in Flagstaff, or go to www.scifest.org.

Or for daily listings, check the Daily Sun’s Community Almanac on the weather page and its Web calendar, www.azdailysun.com.

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