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October 4, 2010

Celebrating Science & Engineering

Science & Society: First national festival aims to better connect the public with science and engineering

Stephen K. Ritter

Steve Ritter/C&EN
Kickoff EPA's Paul T. Anastas helped kick off the festival at a preview event held on Sept. 29 at the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. Anastas led 5th-grade students in a hands-on activity to make a patterned circuit for computer keyboards using a "green" polymer.
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USA Science & Engineering Festival
Do The Cube A logo for the Rubik's Cube tournament promotes one of the activities of the USA Science & Engineering Festival.
Jen Fuchel
10/10/10 This poster advertises the "Powers of Ten" opening concert for the USA Science & Engineering Festival, scheduled for Oct. 10., 2010.

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The first USA Science & Engineering Festival, an effort to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, is set to take place at multiple sites across the U.S. later this month. Scheduled to run Oct. 10-24, the festival is designed to engage students, teachers, and the general public by bringing attention to how science and technology intersects with our daily lives (www.usasciencefestival.org).

The festival is the brainchild of biochemist-entrepreneur Larry Bock, who over the years has helped start 40 high-tech and life science technology companies. Bock was inspired by science festivals he has witnessed in Europe and Asia.

"Those events are more like music, art, or literary festivals than they are science fairs—celebrations of science and engineering," Bock says. Noticing that the U.S. had no equivalent, Bock created a regional festival in San Diego in 2009. It was so successful, he decided to take it to the national level.

"Everything is meant to be hands-on, interactive, fun, and entertaining," Bock adds. "This is not a science fair poster session. It should be a blast."

The festival will kick off at the University of Maryland on Oct. 10 with a concert called the "Powers of Ten: A Journey in Song from Quark to Cosmos." Held on the date 10/10/10, the event will feature a set of science-related songs, produced by British composer David Haines and performed by more than 250 children and adult singers. The concert will be broadcast live on local public television and available online via video streaming.

The festival will conclude with an expo on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 23-24. The expo will feature some 1,500 interactive exhibits and 75 stage shows performed by musicians, comedians, and dancers. For example, the Amazing Nano Brothers will perform their comedic juggling show that takes the audience inside atoms and demonstrates the quirks of nanoscale forces. A Rubik's Cube tournament for teams of students will also take place, with the grand prize awarded by Hungarian professor of architecture Ernõ Rubik, who created the 3-D puzzle 30 years ago.

Sustainability Designing a "sustainable dream house" is one of the competitive activities for students during the USA Science & Engineering Festival.

The expo will also include jump rope mathematics, the physics of superheroes, the engineering of baseball bats and balls, the science behind special effects in movies, trends in global warming, and more. Satellite events will take place in more than 50 other locations in 20 states, Bock says.

Other marquee festival events include "Lunch with a Nobel Laureate." About 6,000 middle and high school students will share a brown bag lunch with Nobel Prize Winners, including chemists Alan J. Heeger, Robert H. Grubbs, and Kurt Wüthrich.

A related event is the "Nifty Fifty," in which 50 leading U.S. scientists and engineers will visit schools to speak about the area of science or engineering they are passionate about and discuss career opportunities in science and engineering.

"Most kids asked to name a famous scientist might say Albert Einstein," Bock notes. "Ask them to name a living famous scientist, and they are a little dumbfounded. We want to humanize these leading figures of science and engineering and show that in many cases they came from modest upbringings yet achieved major contributions to science and the world."

The American Chemical Society is one of more than 550 companies, federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, schools, and universities participating in the event; C&EN, which is published by ACS, is a media partner for the festival. One of ACS's sponsored events is "The Chemistry of Thanksgiving Dinner," presented by Diane Bunce of Catholic University as part of the Nifty Fifty program. It will also be presented at ACS's booth during the expo.

"I am really proud that ACS is a partner of the USA Science & Engineering Festival, and I want to congratulate Larry Bock and his team for bringing science to the nation's capital and making it accessible to the nation's people," says ACS Executive Director and CEO Madeleine Jacobs. The timing is perfect for coinciding with National Chemistry Week (Oct. 17-23), Jacobs adds, and it will help launch the 2011 International Year of Chemistry.

"This festival is a model with a message that rings true anywhere in the country," Jacobs says. "We need to connect our science with the public, and we need to do it in a way that conveys the thrill of discovery and the sense of pride in making the world a better place."

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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