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Festival's goal is to excite Americans about science

NEW YORK — Brian Greene works in a world where scientific reasoning rules all and imagination leads to the most unlikely truths.

Greene and other "string theorists" are exploring a possible scenario in which people and the world around us are actually a 3-D holographic projection of two-dimensional data that exists outside the accessible universe.

It's a concept so mindbending for those who don't understand the complex math behind it that many might decide it's best left to the academics. But Greene wants to build public excitement about science, even as the U.S. loses ground in some areas — and intends to bring even the most complex ideas to the masses at this week's World Science Festival, which starts June 2.

"The idea is to ... find the compelling narrative and stories that allow these programs to really feel like an experience and not a lesson," says Greene, wearing a leather jacket that practically exudes old-school, rock-star cool. It's an appropriate look for a man who has brought the possible inner workings of the universe to scores of non-geniuses through his book "The Elegant Universe" and the PBS specials by the same name.

The physicist founded the festival in 2008 with his wife, Tracy Day. In a way, they say, it's an extension of his work translating into layman's terms the fundamentals of string theory — the idea that the universe and its most fundamental forces could be best explained if everything around us were made up of minuscule, vibrating strings.

Greene is not the only scientist working to show Americans the relevance of the field, and hoping to make it cooler for U.S. youth. Despite the recent murmurings about the era of "geek chic," many teenagers still largely see science as a dorky pursuit, says Michio Kaku, a presenter at the festival and string theorist.

The numbers in the National Science Board's yearly examination of science and engineering indicators paint a mixed picture for American students. The number of high schoolers passing Advanced Placement exams in science quadrupled from 1990 to 2008; but between 2000 and 2006 the U.S. fell from seventh to 13th place in science literacy among 15-year-olds who took an international test.

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