A Seed-Stage Investment in the Next Generation of Innovation: San Diego’s Woodstock of Science

2/27/09

As we hurtle headlong toward the second decade of the millennium, the lines between traditional scientific disciplines become blurrier each day. The high school standards for chemistry, biology, physics and math have been refined by modern scientific theory and super-charged by advances in technology, spawning myriad sub-disciplines and off-shoots that are highly interrelated and interdependent. Engineered algae used to fuel jet planes, microprocessors modeled after the human nervous system used to drive computers, anti-collision devices modeled after the locust’s visual system—these are but a few of the growing multitude of examples of the frequency and efficacy of cross-collaboration in contemporary science.

Unfortunately for America, an alarming trend has arisen in the past few decades: a dearth of home-grown scientists to advance the national and global scientific agenda. Would-be domestic organizations are increasingly being forced to turn their collective institutional eye toward Asia for qualified researchers and innovators. This begs the question: What went wrong, and how do we fix it?

In reflecting on my own academic and professional pursuits, as well as those of my broadly-defined “scientist” colleagues, a common theme that resonates is one of “passion, stoked by curiosity and delight.” My initial interest in science arose because the subject matter was both intriguing and—quite simply—fun, resulting in my participation in helping to spawn 40+ high tech and life sciences companies such as Illumina, Neurocrine, Sirtris Pharmaceuticals,Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and Nanosys. The old adage about aspiring to have one’s work be play is nowhere more evident than in the sciences. It is only in this spirit that an American scientific revival will ignite and gain momentum, and it is up to us in the scientific community – both its academic and business members – to ensure that this occurs.

It is in this vein that the San Diego Science Festival was hatched. Planned as one of the largest multi-cultural, multi-generational, multi-disciplinary celebrations of science ever seen on the West Coast, the festival will descend on San Diego with more than 500 activities across the county, beginning this weekend and continuing through March. From the science of earthquakes to the physics of skateboarding to the mathematics of juggling, the San Diego Science Festival promises to make science accessible, interactive and fun, highlighting the impact of science and innovation on our daily lives. You can find our schedule of events here.

The grand finale will be the Science Festival’s all-day expo in Balboa Park on Saturday, April 4, 2009. This free event features hands-on science for everyone, from the smallest child to even the most established scientist. Expo-goers can learn the latest ways to conserve precious water resources one drop at a time, discover how the cars of tomorrow will resemble Cuisinarts, test their abilities operating a da Vinci surgical robot, or immerse themselves in a virtual reality environment. In addition, scientific comedians, magicians, authors and stage shows will captivate and excite any aspiring scientist from 9 to 99 years old.

The San Diego Science Festival is partnering with more than 350 organizations – leading businesses and organizations in the community that wish to offer their guidance, financial support and time to help teach the scientific leaders of tomorrow. Our collaborators range from LegoLand California to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and include many of San Diego’s eminent universities, museums, libraries, and research institutions, as well as the aerospace, life sciences, and advanced technology companies that bring scientific research to life as innovative products and technologies. In addition to the funding I have provided as festival co-host—and despite the down economy—we have been able to raise more than $600,000 from co-host Lockheed Martin and others to fund this month-long celebration of science. The complete list of our generous sponsors is here.

Inspirational fun and learning for the participants, collaboration by a wide variety of organizers, participants and sponsors, a showcase for San Diego’s finest scientists and scientific organizations – if we mean to achieve the essential goal of reviving American Science, the San Diego Science Festival is poised to provide an important start.

Larry Bock, a biotech entrepreneur and San Diego venture investor, is the founder and organizer of the USA Science & Engineering Festival, set for Washington DC in April 2012. Follow @

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