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The USA Science & Engineering Festival

The USA Science & Engineering Festival

Bill Nye makes an appearance.

Friday, April 27, 2012 - 15:00

Ben P. Stein, Contributor

I am reporting from what has quickly become one of the largest science-related events in the country: the USA Science & Engineering Festival. This weekend marks the second installment of the festival; the first was held in October 2010. Both events have taken place in Washington, D.C.

Today is the "Sneak Peek Friday" for the festival. It will kick into high gear over the weekend on April 28-29, 2012. The hours will be 10am-6pm on Saturday and 10am-4pm on Sunday, and it's free of charge.

I also attended the first festival, which took place outdoors sprawled across several locations on the National Mall. Whereas the first one had the feel of science added to the Smithsonian and federal landscape, This year's festival has a different feel, as it takes place inside the Washington Convention Center, in a kind of enveloping, all-science all-the-time feel. Taking it indoors was a good call, for this slightly chilly and potentially rainy weekend. There's less serendipity perhaps but more space and less of a chance to miss exhibits and demos you'd like to see.

A morning press conference with the entrance of the science cheerleaders, former NBA and NFL cheerleaders who are now scientists and engineers.

Festival organizer Larry Bock said, "Today starts the largest celebration of science and engineering in the United States." Whereas the nation usually celebrates athletes and movie stars, he said, today begins a celebration of science.

The event is the brainchild of Bock, an entrepreneur in the life and physical sciences who is the founder and director of the festival.  The festival states that its mission is "to re-invigorate the interest of our nation’s youth in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by producing and presenting the most compelling, exciting, educational and entertaining science festival in the United States."

Famous TV personality Bill Nye the Science Guy came to the podium and proclaimed science as the best thing that humans have come up with to an audience that included many local schoolchildren.

"Together we can -- dare I say it-- change the world!" Nye exclaimed to energetic applause. The event concluded with a group of the students coming up on stage for the grand conclusion featuring an exploding splash of confetti that reached back to at least 10 rows back into the audience, according to my estimation. It was clearly the money shot, which I missed as I blogged this!

The organizers estimate that the festival will feature over 3,000 interactive exhibits, and more than 100 stage shows. It's a very kid-friendly and youth-oriented event, with lots of hands on demos. Today alone there will be an estimated 15,000 local schoolchildren at the event, outnumbering the weeklong attendance of most scientific meetings, even large ones.

This festival will have several new features: the USA Science & Engineering Festival Book Fair, and a Career Pavilion for high-school students including a College Fair, a Job Fair and a Meet the Scientist/Engineer Networking area.

In addition to Bill Nye the Science Guy, celebrities making appearances over the weekend will include actress Mayim Bialik (Amy Farrah Fowler Ph.D. in the Big Bang Theory sitcom), and Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman from the MythBusters TV series are scheduled to perform over the weekend.

I'll be volunteering from 11-2 today at the Big Top Physics exhibit, which will feature science lessons from circus attractions, from stilts and tightropes to beds of nails and many other attractions. Please visit if you are here! And enter your comments and impressions of the festival!


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Author Bio & Story Archive

Ben P. Stein is a former director of Inside Science and currently the managing editor in the public affairs office at National Institute of Standards and Technology.