On April 15, 2023, the Quest Science Center will hold its Fifth Annual Tri-Valley Innovation Fair. This free community event marks a milestone in the nonprofit’s development over the years. In 2017, a group of accomplished retirees from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories-California led an effort, with community leaders, to create a Tri-Valley science center in Livermore. The group envisioned a place where everyone would have fun and engaging experiences that taught them about the impact of science on their lives and the world.
The City of Livermore agreed to include land for this new science center in Stockmen’s Park, the centerpiece of its downtown redevelopment plan. In 2019, the nonprofit group renamed itself Quest Science Center, to encourage its audience to Question, Understand, and Explore Science and Technology. Since that time, Quest’s hard-working CEO, Monya Lane; its distinguished Board of Directors; and its accomplished Advisory Board have labored to realize the nonprofit’s goal to “inspire and nurture everyday exploration for lifelong engagement with science and technology” in ways that are inclusive and welcoming to people of all ages and backgrounds.
The volunteer-powered nonprofit brought on its first staff member, Caleb Cheung, in January 2020. Before joining Quest as Chief Learning Officer, Cheung spent nearly three years as the Director of Education for Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland. Previously, Cheung worked two decades with the Oakland Unified School District as a science teacher initially and later as Science Director. Soon a new employee will join Quest in the role of Director of Education to help design and implement highly engaging programs for children, teens, families, and adults from diverse backgrounds.
“We are in the early stages of development and piloting programs. It's been fun designing the science center we will become,” says Cheung. “The first generation of science museums were basically collections of artifacts for the public to view. This changed in 1969 with the launch of the Exploratorium in San Francisco and Ontario Science Centre in Canada. They popularized the idea that science learning happens best through hands-on experiences and started the modern science center trend of large buildings with rotating exhibits.”
Today, science centers face a host of challenges, according to Cheung. Even before the pandemic, over the past 10 years or so, the museum field was disrupted by technology. Science centers and museums “no longer have a monopoly on science content or learning experiences with the explosion of the Internet and other learning opportunities and entertainment venues” he notes. “All sorts of learning opportunities exist now where you don't need to visit a physical building. At the same time, funding has decreased, so that model is harder to sustain.”
A huge building brings with it a huge overhead, including staffing and maintenance costs. “We are looking at a smaller footprint so we can be nimble, mobile, and responsive to the needs in our community. A lot of the learning experiences we want to create don't need to happen inside the walls of a building,” says Cheung. There will be a building, eventually, he says, but ”that is going to comprise maybe fifty percent or less of our programs. We want to take the very best of different science experiences and activities and serve everyone in our community. The only way for that to happen is to be in the community and work with partner organizations.”
In September, for example, Quest Science Center and Tri-Valley Air Quality Climate Alliance are teaming up with the City of Livermore and Livermore Area Recreation and Parks District to host the Livermore Youth Climate Summit, a “one-day interactive event for high school youth to gather and take action on climate change,” according to organizers.
The Fifth Annual Tri-Valley Innovation Fair may be the oldest example of Quest bringing science learning to the community. “We want to invite everybody in the region to come and explore science and engineering that exists in our community,” says Cheung. “We want to provide opportunities to learn about all the innovation that is happening today.”
Quest defines the term innovation broadly for the fair, which will include a variety of learning opportunities, organizations, and technologies. The cities of Pleasanton and Livermore will have booths at the event, as will East Bay corporations Chevron and Clorox. Livermore-based Monarch Tractor will be displaying one of its cutting-edge electric, driver-optional farming vehicles that incorporates robotics and artificial intelligence technologies. Las Positas College will have several departments represented at the event. The Department of Anthropology, for example, will share insights about its use of laser surveys and drone technology in forensic anthropology and field work at historical sites. A variety of community organizations will also take part, including the Kids Teach Tech nonprofit, which was started by a Tri-Valley teenager.
“The common thread is this idea of innovation,” according to Cheung. “What are they doing that is novel, interesting, or builds on innovations that were created in the past? This is the fifth annual event and the second year Quest is hosting it at a much larger venue. We're hoping that families, teens, and adults can all come and experience what we have to offer.”
The fair, which depends on many volunteers, will take place indoors and outdoors and will feature special demonstrations throughout the day, according to the organizers. The April 15 event will run from 10 am to 5 pm at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton. Last year more than 60 exhibitors drew 2,500 visitors to the fair. This year’s event is expected to be larger. As of publication, Quest is still recruiting organizations to exhibit at the event.
Exhibitors receive a 10-foot-by-10-foot booth space at rates determined by category. Public schools and student groups or clubs are eligible to register for one booth free of charge. Nonprofits, community organizations, and universities can exhibit at one booth for $50. Special accommodations are available, organizers say, if that fee is prohibitive. The fee is $500 for one booth for commercial enterprises.
The fair is a “one-day intense, amazing, mind-blowing experience that's free for the public,” notes Cheung. “Everybody is welcome, especially people who don't think of themselves as scientists or engineers. This is an opportunity to learn something new and experience something fun in an innovative way. We want to bring the larger community together.”
For more information about the Livermore Youth Climate Summit, please visit www.quest-science.org/youth-climate-summit.
For more information about Quest Science Center and the Tri-Valley Innovation Fair, please visit www.quest-science.org.
For more information about exhibiting, sponsoring, or volunteering at the fair, please visit www.quest-science.org/innovation-fair-exhibit.