What drove you to start the festival in the first place?
I’d say the biggest motivation is the recognition that the world is so increasingly reliant on science, and yet a large portion of the general public is intimidated by science. They somehow think it’s something that you try to get through in school but once you got through it, it’s something you leave behind. And I have so many experiences that have shown me that when people are presented science in a way that is accessible and compelling and inspirational, they not only love it, but they also find it opens up a whole new universe of thought, a whole connection to the world around them that they find enormously enriching. So the goal of the festival is to basically increase the number of people that have that experience.
I’ve gotten letters from soldiers in Iraq that life is so difficult there—in the dusty and lonely environment around Baghdad, where you can lose your life at any moment—and yet when they can retreat into popular science books, mine and others, and learn about cosmology and the particles and quantum physics, and learn that there’s this deep reality that transcends their day-to-day existence, it just gives them a very new perspective and helps to keep them emotionally intact. That’s science speaking to a life, not to just interesting thoughts in the head. And when you see that, the life-altering capability of embracing science, the motivation to have as many people experience that as possible is really strong.