Friday, May 2, 2014

2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival USASEF in Washington DC - Wow

You can read where scientists, engineers and technicians write about how we need to excite more kids about science and engineering. Engineering and science companies, government agencies, universities and primary education institutions all understand that we need to excite more people about the science and engineering disciplines.  Some of these groups worked together to create the USA Science and Engineering Festival in DC  and associated events in other places.  This was a big (big big) trade show like event with hundreds of companies probably 50-100 universities and dozens of government agencies.  Several of the universities had multiple booths in different sections for their various colleges, programs and labs.  The event filled two floors of the Washington DC convention center.  Six stages ran presentations and talks continuously during the event. The kids and older folks who are still kids at heart had a great time.
The USA Science & Engineering Festival is a national grassroots effort to advance STEM education and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. Our exhibitors, performers, speakers, partners, sponsors and advisors are a who-is-who of science and engineering in the United States: from major academic centers and leading research institutes and government agencies to cutting-edge high tech companies, museums and community organizations. - See more at: http://www.usasciencefestival.org/about.html#sthash.Evk8VFmi.dpuf
2014 is the 3rd year of this event.  My wife and I decided to go this year to see what it was like.  It was great.  I can't even remember all the disciplines that were there. The festival would be interesting to kids of all ages. It tended to trend a little younger but the High School kids could get something out of the university exhibits and from the career section. Next year we are renting some of the neighbor kids so I can spend more time in the hands on section.  I've lost the program to the event so I can't really show you how many hands on exhibits there were.

Engineering companies, technical outfits, STEM and other technical educational companies , university graduate and undergraduate program and lab teams were spread out across this whole area and across the upper floor.

This is the lower Convention floor coming down the escalator. This area was huge including engineering, health and medicine,communication, medical, career and other areas that I can't remember. 

The area right at the bottom of the stairs included lathroscopic surgery exhibits where the kids could remotely control probes in a body while watching the probes on TVs.



The section right at the bottom of the stairs also included a gas chromotography display/experiment area and some pig hearts the kids could stick their hands into to see how they worked.

This is a slightly different angle.  The lower floor also included some vocational technical displays and learning institutions including things like HVAC The area to the right was the career area and some food vendors.


The US Air  Force is off stage left from this picture. They had some quad copters in a netted cage that played musical instruments.  There were a lot of 3D printers, quadcoptors and electronic controls in the engineering section.

There were also a couple hackerspaces, robot clubs and other groups in this section.

This area was supposed to be where kids could rest. There were people floating around in here helping the kids build "air powered cars"  using straws and paper and such.

Career information is behind us here.  3D printing, robots and engineering is to the right.


This area was also near the ocean / (??) section where the kids could run remote control DSV in tanks.

We were already 3 hours in by the time we got to this end of the lower floor. There was a bunch of cool stuff in here also. 

You can see one of the stages in the background.  I really wish I still had my map to show you the size of this thing.

Somewhere at this end were the "freeze a ballon and shatter it" , "torch a ceramic block and then touch it with your bare hands" kind of exhibits.



This was one of several of the Boulder based companies that came with their educational tools.  These kids are building "robots" by snapping together components. A lot of the booths had construction or experimentation areas.

Some companies did giveaways.  Kids in the Sparkfun booth were soldering together digital watches and electronic Simon games that they could take home. 



This is the escalator going up. It was pretty much this busy the whole time we were there.


We were so busy looking around that I forgot take pictures of huge sections of the lower floor.


The upper floor was environmental, life  sciences, space, more trade science like welding and bunch of other stuff.  Folks wandered around playing people like Nicholas Tesla.  There were cool things like this buy with a giant spider that he would let crawl onto the kids hands.  They were loving it.


This is a gratuitous space science picture. I've always been a space fan so the NASA and SpaceX exhibits were fun for me. They didn't have actual rockets but were talking about missions, spaceships and other cool stuff.











Thoughts

This event reminded of how broad an area the sciences cover and why science and engineering are cool. Science museums and discovery centers are great but this festival was croweded and made kids feel like it was exciting.

School technical education has been dumbed down over last couple decades with the elimination of anything remotely dangerous or scary from the curriculum. Chemistry labs are dead, physics experiments have been gutted.   Zero tolerance programs can end teacher's careers for bringing simple things like household tools to class to describe how basic machines work. Maybe things like the USASEF can act as an alternative channel gets more kids interested in science and engineering.  I hope that they can have the same fun I had playing with and building things that sometimes fail but always teach.

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