The World Science Festival, which is in its second year, is in full swing through Sunday, offers lectures, discussions, and even a street fair on Sunday that make science more accessible to the public. !@#$% Traffic: From Insects to Interstates asks if "marching ants, schooling fish, and herding wildebeests can teach us something about the morning commute?" while cast members of Battlestar Galactica joining leading robotocists to discuss a time when "intelligent machines are commonplace and cybernetic technology enhances human capabilities" in Battlestar Galactica: Cyborgs on the Horizon. We spoke to World Science Festival co-founder, Brian Greene, who is also professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University (and author of The Elegant Universe), about the festivities.

Last year's festival was entirely sold out and this year’s festival is looking to be similarly well-attended. Does this signal that the American public is becoming more interested in science and math? It's a great question. I think one way of interpreting that is that there's a resurgence of interest in math and science. The other is that the interest was always there—it just required programming that was accessible and compelling to really bring it out. That interest has just been largely untapped, and what we've helped to do is to be the impetus for that interest and enthusiasm to bubble up to the surface.

A major theme of the festival is tying science to art. What role does art have in understanding science? I think it has a huge role on two levels. One is both artists and scientists are trying to do the same thing. They're trying to understand the world and the universe better; they just do it from different angles. It's great when you allow them to meld together so that the insights of each can help take the other further. The other way I think putting art and science together is crucial is the philosophy of the festival—you need to create many avenues of entry into science because you've got many different kinds of people you want to reach. For the science enthusiast, programs that are more pure science will reach them, but for the person whose attention is more focused on the arts and when they hear science they want to run the other way, if you have dance or music or theater or film or performance art that has an organic link to science, you can bring in a whole new group of people that can get excited about science. That's what we try to do with those programs.

Well one of the programs is "WALL-E's World." The movie was a huge hit and you're taking ideas from that and bringing them down to what they mean in terms of science. Sure, and that's another direction. I was referring more to the kinds of programs like the one Anna Deavere Smith is doing. She's an actress and performance artist and she's going to portray James Watts and E.O. Wilson. And that's such an unusual union of art and science to learn about two great scientists through a performance piece. But "WALL-E's World" is another approach, which is, as you say, to take something that has been wildly popular in popular culture and use it as an avenue of entry into science. You can do it with Star Trek; we're doing it with Battlestar Galactica, where you appeal to the base of individuals for whom those films or TV programs are exciting, but you bring them further into the science.

Tell me about the discussion you're involved in, Infinite Worlds: A Journey through Parallel Universes. You have this collaboration with DJ Spooky, and this whole idea of the multiverse has gained a lot of cult interest because of Lost. Right. You know, the basic idea that's come out of modern physics is that our universe may not be the only universe. Ours may be one of many universes, and the program that I'm involved with is an exploration of that idea with some of the people who really discovered this possibility. So it's really hearing from the horse's mouth, so to speak. And the collaboration with DJ Spooky is to inject an element of performance into the evening so you're not just hearing ideas; you're taking them in more viscerally. What DJ and I did is we spoke more about the ideas of parallel universes and, then, he went off and composed a new piece, where he's got like 15 different musical voices that will all be playing simultaneously. Ten of them were recorded, five of them will be live. All these musical voices will interweave and run into each other and bounce apart, much like parallel universes. So it's a way audiences can hear in an artistic manner what they're learning about from the words of the people describing parallel universes.

I was reading in WIRED that DJ Spooky has a longer piece he'll be sharing later on. He and I are talking about doing a long form piece. The "Infinite Worlds" program is short, it's more of a musical interlude. But we're thinking about doing a full-length piece that takes these ideas further.

What have you learned from putting together last year’s festival in terms of what you've done with this year's festival? Well, we were pretty happy with how things went last year. You always want things to be tighter and more efficient—sort of the obvious things—but the main thing we learned I'd say is this: we focused last year pretty exclusively on highlighting great science, the rich content of science, in interesting ways. And what we've thought about and learned about is that that's a great thing to do, but it's also important to highlight great scientists, not just great science.

If great scientists were held up the way we've revered actors and musicians, that would be a wonderful thing for culture. So that was the impetus for our opening night at Lincoln Center. We're doing this tribute to E.O. Wilson, this leading naturalist of the 20th and 21st centuries, and the idea is that performing arts individuals—like Yo Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Glenn Close, Alan Alda, and so forth—will be having a performance art tribute to science as embodied by E.O. Wilson. So that's just another angle we learned about last year that would be a powerful one to highlight, not just the science but also the scientists.

Why did you want to bring this festival to New York? Why not Washington D.C. or, say, San Francisco? Maybe near some of the large research facilities that receive a lot funding from the government? To paraphrase, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. But I guess our basic thought was, there are two ways to proceed in a novel undertaking. You can start small and try to build support over the years and, in that way, ultimately have something after a handful of years that's strong and visible and having an impact. The other approach is to really try to jump in fully to the biggest and most difficult environment to pull something like this off in, and if you can have science get attention in this context, it could inspire others around the country to do the same thing. And that's really what's happening. We find now that we're contacted by people in other cities who want to start allied festivals that would happen at the same time as this one and be part of a network. We've seen other groups of individuals start up science festivals in San Diego and St. Louis and Cambridge. So, the idea was to really try to bring science centerstage with a big splash.

And you're a New Yorker. And the fact that we live here doesn't hurt.

Did you grow up here? I did, yeah. I've moved like 40 blocks in 40 years.

Did you attend public schools? I went to P.S. 87 on 78th Street, I.S.S. 44—that's the one that has the flea market in the courtyard—and then Stuyvesant High School.

How is your own pursuit of science going? The work is going really well. I actually am working in the area of multiverse theory that I'm talking about in the festival. It's sort of natural for me to be in a program that I'm thinking about during the year as well. It's an exciting and strange field that we are pursuing. There's even a chance, a remote one, that some of our ideas might be tested in the next few years, which is very exciting.

So what would you want to tell New Yorkers who feel intimidated by science but do want to broaden their horizons? How would you encourage them to become engaged? I would tell them to come to the World Science Festival. Go to the Web site, pick out a program or two, and give it a shot. For example, I had a woman come up to me at last year's festival. She had just gone to one of our programs and she said to me, "I'm not a scientist. I usually don't pay much attention to science, but this caught my eye and I went. I was so thrilled during the program that my heart started to beat so fast." And she said, "Thank you so much for creating this kind of programming for New York." And that I think is an experience that can be replicated over and over again.

Are you also excited that with the new presidential administration there seems to be an interest in promoting science and research? Yes. It is just so wonderful to have President Obama recognize the value and the importance of science and scientific thought. His becoming president has really infused the scientific community—not only the general public—with a new sense of optimism and almost inspiration, which I think is a great thing to happen.

The World Science Festival runs through Sunday. More details here.

Jon Hill contributed research for this interview.