Thomas Pradel, 3, is dressed as a budding scientist at the EXPO Day of the San Diego Festival of Science & Engineering.
Thomas Pradel, 3, is dressed as a budding scientist at the EXPO Day of the San Diego Festival of Science & Engineering in 2018. Photo by Chris Stone

More than 65,000 people are expected to participate in the 11th annual San Diego Festival of Science & Engineering, which kicks off Saturday with the popular free expo at Petco Park.

The nine-day festival features interactive demonstrations, hands-on activities and dynamic speakers to inspire today’s students to become tomorrow’s innovators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Presented by the Illumina Foundation in partnership with the Biocom Institute, the festival is an effort to raise San Diego County’s reputation as a leader in the sciences.

This year, for the first time, the arts will a major part of the festival, turning “STEM into “STEAM” because of the importance of art and design in innovation.

“This year’s expo day and festival week bring together STEAM enthusiasts of all backgrounds, cultures, neighborhoods, and ages,” said Sara Pagano, managing director of the festival. “We’re excited to work with some of the top arts-related organizations in San Diego County, including A Reason to Survive (ARTS) in National City and Writerz Blok San Diego in the Chollas View area, to showcase the importance of the arts in STEM, and how all topics are intertwined.”

The festival begins Saturday with the annual expo from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Petco Park. Last year, nearly 23,000 people attended the free event.

More than 130 local businesses and organizations will offer hands-on science, technology, engineering, art and math activities for budding K-12 scientists, engineers and artists. Among those taking part are Illumina, Qualcomm, ViaSat, Hologic, Cubic, Cymer, Thermo Fisher Scientific and the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute.

The festival week continues with the “STEM in Your Backyard” series with events in Barrio Logan, San Marcos, El Cajon and Chula Vista.

There’s also a “21 and up” series for adult science and engineering enthusiasts to share their passion for STEM and STEAM with others.

A complete list of festival activities is available online.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.