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World Science Festival: Dark Matter, Cryptography and Getting Old

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Lab coats are optional at this year's World Science Festival, now in its fourth year, but an open mind is a must. During the five-day festival, scientists, artists and thinkers convene in New York City to discuss such diverse subjects as the Cancer Genome Atlas, cryptography, getting old and how scent affects behavior. There will also be performances — a dance illustrating discoveries of the universe's dark matter and a show of mental mathematical gymnastics — and a street fair for the public to do hands-on experiments.

Brian Greene, who is a theoretical physicist and one of the founders of the festival, said the events seek avenues outside of an academic setting to get people engaged in science. Lectures and talks are meant for scientists as well as laypeople who are interested in cutting-edge research.

"By showing the true drama and wonderful stories of science, you can bring it to the general public in a way that helps to shift science from the outskirts of culture to the center," Greene said. "Most of us are all too happy to use the fruits of science, but we don't want to look under the hood."

Pulitzer prize-winning cancer researcher Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, a panelist on "Cancer's Last Stand? The Genome Solution," said the festival didn't just celebrate scientific advances, but allowed researchers to present all aspects of their work.

"One thing that I try to do is give what I hope is an honest opinion about where the field is," Dr. Mukherjee said. "I don't try to distort what has happened — there are many, many failures amidst some successes."

Part of the marvel of science, he added, was that researchers can tackle problems in a new way when a test or trial doesn't work.

The World Science Festival kicks off on Wednesday night with an opening night gala and wraps up on Sunday with a street fair at Washington Square Park.

Updated 5/31/11