Leave it to Stephen Colbert to zero in on the essence of a situation.

When best-selling-author/physicist Brian Greene — who’ll appear at next month’s Seattle Science Festival — said on “The Colbert Report” that “Math is a gateway to reality,” Colbert stared him down:

“You sound like a cult leader.”

And when Greene told his host, “You are a bag of particles governed by the laws of physics,” Colbert thought for a moment then said: “That is a great pickup line.”

A cult leader with a great pickup line. It’s the kind of gentle ribbing any author might happily endure for the honor of having his book held up by Colbert before millions of TV viewers.

And Colbert may not have been far off the mark.

Greene, who probes mathematical research for clues to understanding the cosmos, “is one of the greatest explainers of complicated ideas in the world today,” said Bryce Seidl, CEO of the Pacific Science Center.

That’s the type of scientist organizers of the second annual Seattle Science Festival sought out — ones who not only excel in their fields but in communicating their work to the general public.

Those scientists will highlight evening presentations that bookend the 11-day festival, which begins June 6 and is coordinated by the Pacific Science Center.

In between, a variety of science-related exhibits and programs will be offered around the area, including the free Science Expo Day at Seattle Center on June 8, with more than 150 booths; hands-on activities; demonstrations; and performances in science, technology and engineering.

Last year’s festival was coordinated with events marking the 50-year anniversary of Seattle’s forward-looking 1962 World’s Fair, which included a month dedicated to science.

This year’s festival is more compact, Seidl said, and attempts to repeat and refresh activities that were particularly popular in the first one.

Festival activities help boost the importance of STEM topics — science, technology, engineering and math — which hold many future employment opportunities for today’s youth. But that’s only part of the story, Seidl said.

“This isn’t just about kids choosing careers,” Seidl said. “We all need to know the magnitude of science’s impact on our lives, whether we think of ourselves as scientists or not.”

In these times of tight government resources, the nation’s position as a world leader in scientific research could be at risk, said Seidl, adding that curtailing the commitment to science could have dire implications for the ability of Americans to cope with a changing world.

Last year’s festival featured a rare public appearance by world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

Seidl concedes the top names at this year’s event aren’t as universally recognizable as Hawking’s, but said they do have broad followings inside and outside the scientific community.

Greene, who’ll speak at an 8 p.m. June 6 event at the Paramount Theatre, is the author of several books exploring the implications of new developments in math and physics, including his 2011 work, “The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.”

A children’s book by Greene, “Icarus at the Edge of Time,” tells of a young man’s adventure challenging the mysterious power of a black hole in space.

A dramatic piece based on that book, with a Philip Glass score performed by the Garfield High School orchestra, will be performed.

The June 6 program also includes presentations by physicist/authors Sean Carroll and Adam Frank.

Carroll’s work includes “From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time.” Frank is a co-founder of NPR’s “13.7 Cosmos and Culture” blog and author of “”About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang.”

On June 15, the festival will host an evening of multimedia presentations on climate change at 7:30 p.m. at Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Presenters are Richard Alley, professor at Pennsylvania State University; Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research; and Andrew Revkin, award-winning New York Times journalist.

Tickets for either of the evening presentations are $15 for students, $30 for general seating and $60 for premium seating. For the opening-night event, a $125 VIP package includes premium seating and a cocktail reception with the speakers and performers.

Jack Broom: jbroom@seattletimes.com