Four days. 750 exhibits. 325,000 people . . . all teaching and learning and having fun with science. The Grand Finale Expo of the 3rd USA Science & Engineering Festival (USASEF), held April 24–27 at the Washington, DC, convention center, was the largest STEM education event in the nation. AIP and many of its Member and Affiliated Societies jumped into the action feet-first. Here are some of the staff’s impressions about the experience.
“Big Top Physics was a joint exhibit by APS, AAPT, OSA, and SPS. Our goal was to let people experience the fun of physics, to show them that the physics that explains the world around them is understandable and accessible. One mom said it was the best booth in the entire festival.” —Bo Hammer, AIP associate vice president of Physics Resources
“The Big Top Physics tent had roughly 10,000 people go through in the three days of the USASEF. Though that might seem like a small number compared with something like a viral YouTube video or a blog post, in our tent each person had the opportunity to directly interact with physics and physicists. Each interaction was meaningful and involved hands-on activities. I also think that the collaboration between so many societies was unique and special. We all came together for a common goal, putting on the ‘greatest physics show on earth!’ I can’t wait to work on another project with this group.” —Becky Flagg, APS director of Public Outreach
“The USA Science and Engineering Festival provides an opportunity for budding scientists to be exposed to new and creative aspects of the optics and photonics field, which may lead to future careers. OSA is proud to have partnered on the ‘Big Top Physics’ tent again this year. This type of educational outreach is an effective, fun, and rewarding investment by OSA’s members and volunteers. Our goal is to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.” See the OSA press release. —Elizabeth Rogan, OSA CEO
“The event was a wonderful way to engage both children and parents with hands-on science. My grandchildren came to the SPS/AAPT/OSA/APS exhibits and loved the bed of nails demonstration and the smoke-ring cannon. It certainly demonstrated a great way for AIP Member Societies to work together. More, please!” —Michael Duncan, OSA senior science advisor and AIP Governing Board member
At AIP’s Inside Science green screen exhibit, hundreds of children acted as science TV reporters in front of their choice of multiple video backgrounds, from the Space Station to wildfires. The exhibit's “junior reporters” included a grandmother with her three grandkids, a student who chose to deliver his report in sign language, and another young person who decided to recite the first 10 elements of the periodic table.
“The booth had elements for every age. Parents were able to pick up information on Inside Science news products while watching their kids have a good time pretending to be science reporters. It seemed like a good way to let kids have some fun, while showing them what we do at Inside Science.” —Christina Unger, news products associate, Inside Science
“Acting as a science reporter seemed to give many of the children a sense of empowerment and open new possibilities for them.” —Ben Stein, director of Inside Science
Quotes from booth visitors:
“This is such a great idea, and once [my daughter] got in front of the camera, she just lit up!”
“One of the best things about the festival is to meet people who are in STEM careers and learn how they got there.”
“This is what Grandpa did for a living!”
Please join me in thanking all of the AIP and Member Society staff and volunteers who helped make this extraordinary event so meaningful to so many.