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Northeastern's Unique PASTEL Program Highlighted at International "Science & Society: Closing the Gap" Conference

Partnership Program with Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Science, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Public Libraries and Citi Performing Arts Center Highlighted as One of the World’s Best

Contact: Laura Shea at 617-373-5427

(1-17-07) BOSTON, Mass. – PASTEL (Partnership for Arts, Science and TEchnology Learning), a unique program initiated by Northeastern University with many of the city of Boston’s most treasured arts, science and learning institutions, is being highlighted at the upcoming “Science & Society: Closing the Gap” conference as one of the world’s most innovative informal science programs. PASTEL is a major initiative designed to deliver a new generation of informal science programming to children and families in Boston through a collaborative consisting of Northeastern University, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Public Libraries and the Citi Performing Arts Center.

PASTEL is based on the premise that opportunities abound in every city for engaging the public in science learning, not only in science-focused venues, but also in art museums, concert halls and performance spaces. The city of Boston in particular is home to some of the world’s most acclaimed arts institutions, but they have typically not been seen as places where science learning happens. PASTEL aims to change that by creating science learning opportunities in these venues: from showing children the tools used to detect fraudulent art to investigating how the music from a symphony travels from a musician’s instrument to one’s ear. In this way, tens of thousands of families are projected to explore the arts through the prism of science, providing a new kind of cultural and educational enrichment in the city.

“Reaching children in these venues of choice makes science learning fun and accessible,” said Northeastern University physics Professor Arun Bansil, Project Director of the PASTEL program, who will be presenting the program at the Science & Society conference. “In order to help the next generation compete in our technological society, we need to reach them early, and get them excited in unorthodox ways about the breadth of impact of science and technology in every day life.”

Another unique aspect of PASTEL is that Northeastern is working with Boston Public Libraries to reach out to families and children in Boston who do not typically visit the museums. For this purpose, some of the materials developed for use in the museums will be reconfigured and used to excite children in appropriate group settings in the Boston Public Libraries and Boston’s Community Centers.

“Getting kids excited about math and science is one of our most important educational challenges,” said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, honorary chair of PASTEL’s advisory board. “But children are naturally drawn to art and music, so introducing them to those subjects through cultural programs is a great idea. PASTEL is a creative initiative that will make a real contribution to the education of Boston’s youth.”

PASTEL’s pilot programming has been funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) planning grant as part of the Informal Science Education (ISE) program, which invests in projects that develop and implement informal learning experiences designed to increase interest, engagement, and understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by individuals of all ages and backgrounds, as well as projects that advance knowledge and practice of informal science education.

The first pilot program was held at the MFA in February 2006 during school vacation week, and was called “Artful Elements: The Many Facets of Clay.” Approximately 1800 people took part in the programming, which included making microscope slides to view various materials, studying the rocks that erode to form clay, and learning about glazes and firing. In one demonstration, children were asked to hold a genuine ceramic space shuttle tile while a facilitator used a small torch to melt a penny on top of it, demonstrating the insulating properties of ceramics. A second pilot was held in March 2005 at the BSO in association with the BSO’s family concert. Called “Artful Elements: The Many Facets of Sound,” the program served about 320 individuals and involved, among other activities, using computer software to allow participants to “see” the sounds the instruments made, look at a spectra of their own voices, and try to “morph” one instrument into another.

The “Science & Society: Closing the Gap” conference, sponsored by Partners Healthcare, will be held January 19-21st at the Westin Copley Place Hotel in Boston, MA. Al Gore and Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will keynote. PASTEL will be presented on Saturday (January 20th) afternoon in the 1-3:30 PM concurrent session B. For more on the conference, visit:

About Northeastern: Founded in 1898, Northeastern University is a private research university located in the heart of Boston. Northeastern is a leader in interdisciplinary research, urban engagement, and the integration of classroom learning with real-world experience. The university’s distinctive cooperative education program, where students alternate semesters of full-time study with semesters of paid work in fields relevant to their professional interests and major, is one of the largest and most innovative in the world. The University offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate programs leading to degrees through the doctorate in six undergraduate colleges, eight graduate schools, and two part-time divisions. For more information, please visit

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