The USA Science&Engineering Festival ended on Sunday October 24th, after six months of working us all 24/7. But it was worth it. We had more than 500,000 people come through and on the lawn of the National Mall on Sunday I overheard a parent telling her five year-old, "Yes we can stay all day. And you can see all the robots."
Kind of like a science Disneyland, minus the bored actors and plus hundreds of college students and grown-ups explaining why planes fly, why NASCAR goes at such fast speeds, hands buried deep in green goo that represented something scientific. I just thought the shade of bright green was cool.
The Festival had 1500 hands-on exhibits, and was billed as having something for all ages. Even though I wrote that on all promotional and marketing materials, I didn't really believe. But parents were crouched over tables mixing chemicals and seeing how they reacted to each other, building Lego Robots, extracting DNA from strawberries, right alongside their children. It was wonderful to watch.
The Expo was huge and daunting and a number of parents came to what I called the Expo Tease or Expo Siberia depending on my mood, with their younger children because our section on Freedom Plaza was much quieter and we had PBS. Who doesn't want to meet Dora or go inside a mobile lab and find out what their bodies are made of?
From our off the beaten track media booth, that was supposed to be quiet and ended up behind the sound stage, we saw a crowd forming to hear Bill Nye, the Science Guy, who still has the draw of a rock star (albeit a B-level one). He was funny and charming and pushing his new job - head of the Planetary Society - a bit too much but the crowds loved him.
Next came the Science Cheerleaders, real scientists as they told us, who also are professional cheerleaders. They wore outfits that moved with them, and skirts a length my daughter would never be allowed to leave the house wearing. Royal blue glitter pompoms shook as they introduced themselves and talked about their master's degrees and work.
The beauty queen who is also a scientist was there too - she showed up in skin tight black outfit and five inch stiletto heels then changed into what I thought was a wedding dress but evidently was her gown from a pageant. I didn't listen to her but she talked for along time and answered questions. Much more exciting to visit the Math people who helped kids build and race wooden cars.
A knot of policeman who were supposed to be keeping an eye on the Festival, formed for the cheerleaders. It was kind of like the construction workers who gathered to watch some girl drinking Pepsi as their lunch hour entertainment in a commercial from a long time ago.
I wandered around and tried to make a paper airplane that flew but the woman at the booth told me it was for children. Bad answer - the whole Festival was about science for everyone. Maybe if they do it again, she won't say that.
There was a machine that shot balls into the air which were eagerly grabbed by kids who would toss them back, and wait with more patience than most 8 year-olds have, to catch them again. Something about laws of motion.
The Cat in the Hat strolled around posing for photos (he has a new science show) and I followed him for awhile trying to make him do an interview. He steadfastly refused to talk even though it wasn't hard to imagine what he was thinking - "What is wrong with her?"
Inside the Mellon Auditorium, with Lockheed Martin, who I personally thought had the coolest exhibits there was a giant metal ball that you could climb inside and become a virtual hamster. Or if that didn't appeal, you could always fly a fighter jet from a cockpit that was so real, I almost forgot it wasn't.
Did we change the world with one Festival - no. Did we inspire some kids to want more science - absolutely? Most important, it was really fun. And science demonstrated once and for all that it really is cool.
Science Makes a Huge Splash on the National Mall in DC
By Aimee Stern | October 27th 2010 10:56 AM | Print | E-mail