Sunday, April 27, 2014

U.S. Science & Engineering Festival - 2014

The big event in STEM (Wikipedia) this weekend was the U.S. Science & Engineering Festival, a gathering of scientific and engineering organizations from around the U.S. (and a few from overseas).  The festival is a multi-day celebration of science and technology with hands-on explorations of science and loads of technology demonstrations.  The previous event was in 2012.

This year (and this is the third in the D.C. area) the event was significantly larger than the previous one.  The event was very crowded, particularly late in the day, and it even occupied TWO large showroom floors in the convention center.

With all the time I spend dealing with the cranks and pseudo-scientists, it is encouraging to see so many people enthusiastic about REAL science.  Visiting these types of events restores my hope in the future of the human race.  Even though I grew up in the era of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, when the U.S. was strongly encouraging students to go into science, I don't recall any event(s) of this nature or size, but then I often lived in rather out-of-the way places.

Just a short, and definitely incomplete, description of some of the activities, etc.
  • Robots and drones of all types and utility (a popular item from past years)
  • 3-d printers (a surprising number of booths had them)
  • Electric cars and sustainable technologies: wind/solar power systems in containers, generating electric power from rain runoff through your gutter system (a bit more than you might think!), other tools being developed to find just where your home is consuming power.
  • Lockheed-Martin, probably the largest sponsor of the event, had fighter jet simulators for a variety of aircraft, though there was not an actual fighter jet on the showroom floor this time.
  • Danica McKellar on encouraging women in science and promoting her "Math Doesn't Suck" books.
  • Bill Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society and recent participant in the Nye-Ham Creationism debate (Nye-Ham Debate) was joined on stage by Emily Lakdawalla (blog) and Danica McKellar for some entertaining science demonstrations.  Nye also presented a host of problems needing solutions for future scientists and engineers: protecting the Earth from asteroid impacts (wikipedia), better batteries, climate change (AIP: The Discovery of Global Warming).  Prior to the Nye-Ham debate, I had sent an email to Nye with some notes about Ken Ham's claims and tactics.  Nye even responded.  I tried to get autograph on a printout of the e-mail, but the autograph line closed before I got there.  
  • Kevin Hussey of JPL demonstrated the next iteration of their excellent "Eyes on the Solar System" program which is freely available for download (  Below are some sample screenshots from the program, available for PC and Mac.
  • Lots of hands on demonstrations, for kids and adults, a "Meet the Scientist" booth where visitors could ask questions of real scientists.
  • The National Security section had a surprising number of interesting displays.

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