The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
For longtime College of San Mateo astronomy professor Mohsen Janatpour, teaching science is a hands-on activity, with the college’s Centennial Science Week an opportunity for families and kids to experience astronomy and other sciences.
The weeklong event at CSM is an extension of the annual Family Science Day that features several new planetary programs geared toward science demonstrations for children to introduce them to science uniquely and tangibly beyond just reading.
“My original goal and still is to raise the public’s awareness of science,” Janatpour said. “That is my underlying motivation.”
Family Science Day occurs the last Saturday of every September and brings young people and families out to learn about astronomy and other sciences, with this year extended into Centennial Science Week to celebrate the college’s centennial opening. Family Science Day Sept. 24 had over 1,700 people, with this week expected to bring in many more. Janatpour’s experiences have taught him talking to students about science is not the best way to introduce concepts. Instead, giving kids hands-on experiences of making comets, studying viruses with marshmallows and stargazing with faculty is the best way to stimulate interest. He advocates for getting to do it yourself and understanding how and why something occurs.
“People get attracted to science by doing something rather than just telling people about it,” he said about the events. “So we let them do science.”
Janatpour joined CSM in 1979 and became the planetarium director in 1992. He currently serves as the coordinator of the Astronomy Program and as a professor. He started the forerunner of Family Science day with special public events to look at eclipses at the planetarium, called the Family Science and Astronomy Festival. The department decided to expand and have the event include more science departments, with the Family Science Day now including biology, chemistry, physics and the library.
Janatpour will lead a show on Wednesday and Friday called Symvisio on the Dome, a blend of astronomical imagery, art and music, showing kids the universe’s wonders. Janatpour’s artwork will mix with the backdrop of stars, galaxies and other beautiful celestial objects to create a worldview. Janatpour drew inspiration from the popular Immersive Van Gogh exhibit, which uses projections and illustrations of art to create an interactive room.
“This is the first time we are doing it,” Janatpour said. “We have never done this idea.”
Thursday will have a Matinee Planetarium Show about asteroids, comets and cosmic origins. All shows run from 1:15-1:55 p.m. in science building 36 at the planetarium. Family Science Day is expected to continue as Janatpour’s legacy if he leaves, given the success and interest.
“Even if I am not around the last Saturday of 2023, it will still be the same,” Janatpour said.
The event goes from Sept. 26-30. People can go to collegeofsanmateo.edu/100/scienceweek.php for more information about Family Science Week.