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Past, present and future collide in the City of Atlanta. (Alex Ip, Georgia State University/The Xylom Illustration)

From Red to Purple to Fuchsia

The Atlanta Science Festival is Reshaping How the South talks STEM


This story has been donated to the Atlanta History Center’s Corona Collective.

This story is dedicated to the memory of Rep. John Lewis (1940-2020). His District, encompassing all the locations featured in the story, is our District. He fought for the dignity of all, insisted on the transformational impact of education, and set an example for a new generation of leaders to dream big and make good trouble.


A few miles away from the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where the President would be grappling with the fallout of COVID-19 for the first time, a time machine was booting up on Georgia Tech’s campus.

As kids and adults alike trickled into the Ferst Center of the Arts on a breezy March Friday evening, they were handed silver commemorative future-themed “travel passes” that would provide access to the 2100 edition of the Atlanta Science Festival (ATLSciFest). In “2100: A Climate Odyssey,” North America’s largest time machine would teleport the audience to the Puente Hills Landfill in Los Angeles County, the Great Barrier Reef, the Congo Basin, and Siberia, Russia. The drama was advertised to show how climate change would alter these places by the end of the century.

National Archives (Courtesy of the Mapping Inequality Project, University of Richmond).

As I prepared for time travel, it occurred to me that in order to project the future, one would need to be grounded in the present as well as attuned to the past. In keeping with the theme of the event, I brought along a map created in the 1930’s by the federal government’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) that designated the desirability of neighborhoods in cities across the nation. As the Atlanta Science Festival prepares to launch into 2100, it is worth understanding the historic factors that led to the various levels of scientific literacy and participation across different parts of the city, and how such present trends are a signal of what’s to come.

With everyone strapped on their imaginary seat belts, the machine would turn on in three.