This weekend the festival will fan out into streets, museums, theaters and no doubt restaurants, where at least briefly conversation about Calabi-Yau shapes, the immune system or the politics of genetically modified food may supplement the usual fare of real estate and Hillary versus Barack.
On Friday, for example, if you want your wonder tickled, you could go to the Museum of Modern Art to watch Doug Liman, director of “The Bourne Identity,” discuss his assassin’s famous amnesia with the neuroscientist Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin. Or you could head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a conversation between the intellectual omnivore Dr. Oliver Sacks and the science commentator Robert Krulwich on the relationship between what the eye sees and what the mind perceives.
Later, at the Miller Theater on the Columbia campus, the paleontologist Richard Leakey will ponder the continuing extinction of species, while at New York University a panel of physicists will discuss quantum weirdness. And that’s only part of one day.
The festival is the brainchild of Brian Greene, a Columbia physicist and best-selling author (“The Elegant Universe,” “The Fabric of the Cosmos”) and his wife, Tracy Day, a former producer for ABC News. They say they got the idea after attending a science festival in Genoa, Italy, in 2005 and, impressed by the excitement, they decided to try it in New York, considered the center of so many things, but not usually science. When they began talking it up to university presidents and potential donors, the response, they said, was bafflement that it hadn’t already happened here.
In all there will be more than 30 events, including an all-day street fair in Washington Square Park with dinosaurs and robots. The program, chock-full of Nobel laureates, has been evolving, with more events added right up to the last minute. (The schedule is at worldsciencefestival.com.) Many events are sold out, say the organizers, who are already thinking of ways to improve the festival next year. They intend to make it an annual event.
“We all start out as little scientists,” Dr. Greene said, but adults often lose touch with that, which is dangerous. “Science is an element in our lives,” he added. “We need a general public that is willing to engage with the ideas of science.”
Alan Alda, the actor and science popularizer, who will be a constant presence over the next few days, said, “We live in a world that runs on science, and many of us don’t get the connection.”
A festival highlight will be a reading at the Miller Theater on Sunday of a new play by Mr. Alda, based on the love letters and other correspondence of Albert Einstein. On Saturday at the same place, he will reprise his performance of the iconoclastic Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman in a reading of the play “QED.”
Einstein will show up on Friday in a new production of the play “Einstein’s Dreams,” based on the best-selling novel by the physicist Alan Lightman, and performed by the Underground Railway Theater, at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
One of the more intriguing highlights is a new work by the choreographer Karole Armitage, based on Dr. Greene’s book “The Elegant Universe,” at the Guggenheim Museum on Friday and Saturday, both at 7:30 p.m. It is billed as blending “music, dance, text and projected imagery to create a vibrant portrait of the universe as revealed by cutting-edge physics, incorporating wondrous insights from the realm of string theory.”
In a recent interview in Scientific American, Dr. Greene described the dance as not about science but rather the choreographer’s response to science. Each show will be followed by a discussion with the composer Lukas Ligeti and a physicist (the string theorist Jim Gates on Friday and Dr. Greene on Saturday).
In another musical interlude, the multitalented Dr. Sacks will take his brain up to the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem on Saturday to join the pastor, the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, and the church’s choir in an exploration of the effects of music on the brain.
On Saturday at New York University’s Kimmel Center a clutch of Nobelists and other geneticists will ponder the relation between genes and identity in a brave new world in which people can know themselves intimately on a molecular level.
Later in the same auditorium a theologian, a neuroscientist, a psychologist, a physicist and the actress Julia Sweeney will discuss scientists’ religious beliefs.
That day of introspection will build up to a panel discussion moderated by Charlie Rose on “What It Means to Be Human,” with philosophers, psychologists, biologists, artists and the futurist Ray Kurzweil, at N.Y.U.’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Dr. Greene said that when he was organizing the festival, “this was the panel that everybody wanted to be on.”
Organizers made a special effort to attract those natural and most enthusiastic of scientists, namely children, and their parents. There will be a free daylong street fair in Washington Square Park on Saturday. (More information on children’s activities is in Spare Times, Page 22.)
Ringing the square, N.Y.U. will host family-oriented events. The Disney Imagineers will show off the tricks by which they make theme-park magic. Physicists and trainers will hold forth on the science behind sports, from curve balls to training meals.
That night the Rubin Museum of Art will host the ultimate sleepover for 40 children ages 10 to 12. Roped together as if on a Mount Everest climb, they will do a pretend ascent of the world’s most dangerous extreme terrain, guided by environmental, medical and mountaineering experts, learning about the scientific challenges of mountains and climbing them.
The festival guide says, “No adults permitted.” Damn.