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USA Science and Engineering Expo 2010

posted Oct 25, 2010, 10:41 AM by Christine Merrill   [ updated Oct 25, 2010, 10:42 AM ]

Whatever vacation you have planned for next year, I have come to recommend that you reschedule and come to D.C. in the fall instead. The reason for this is that I know that all of my esteemed readers have at least a small streak of science and engineering within, and I have found your dream event. This weekend was the USA Science and Engineering Festival on the National Mall. The event was huge, and of course, I couldn't miss something like that! So Saturday morning, we bid farewell to Marriner (who went to help a friend move) and drove into town. We drove because they were doing construction on our Metro line, but as it turns out, we scored a very prime parking space a block away from the party, thanks to our very small car :) So, I admit that I started the day in a good mood, due to my incredible parallel parking skills. But it got better! Before I get going, I'll mention that we spent 2 1/2 hours at the festival and saw about 1/3 of it. There were hundreds of booths of varying age appropriateness, and I sorta picked a side of the festival that looked like it was good for younger kids to start on. So, we started walking and first came to a booth making rubber band propeller cars. Lige and Ellis made one together, then did some racing on their pinewood derby-type track. This booth was by Raytheon, and I was surprised that the people there had flown in from Tucson for the party...but it turns out that this really was a nation-wide event, there were people and booths from all over. We spent some time at a booth with toys that promote engineering and creativity together (cool blocks and such), then saw a booth from the History of Science Society teaching about Benjamin Franklin's electricity experiments. The kids charged a straw by rubbing its wrapper on it, then picked up little peices of straw wrapper with the straw - and now we have a great game for if we're waiting in a restaurant! The kids also got to look at a giant picture of Mars with 3-D glasses, touch a rocket nose cone, lie down and be “rocks” for the Mars Rover to roll over, watch a liquid nitrogen stunt show, meet “Orville Wright”, see the Purdue solar car (but alas, nobody we knew...), play with robot sumo wrestlers and make paper airplanes and fly them.

The highlight of the day was when we turned a corner and were greeted by Michigan Tech students and a pool of cornstarch and water. If, at the end of that sentence, you are thinking, “Oh! I wish I could have been there!” then you are the sort of person who should come to DC next year. I observed that there was a very short line to participate in this activity and started (somewhat excitedly) telling Lige and Ellis that the pool had a non-newtonian fluid in it, and if you moved really fast, you could walk on it, but if you moved slowly, you'd sink in. And that I'd always wanted to walk on a non-newtonian fluid. They were excited and wanted to try it, and then a man who was standing somewhat close to me said, “That was really awesome. I just recorded you talking to your kids. Is that ok?” I talked to him a bit and found out that he was an education outreach person for MathCad. I said, “Oh! We still have our version of MathCad that we bought in 2003, while we were still students!” He laughed, and we talked for a bit, and he said, “Could I interview you and put your video on YouTube?” So, he did a little interview of this stay-at-home mom who'd always wanted to walk on cornstarch and water, and was teaching her kids about it at the festival :) We swapped business cards, and he said, “You know, I'm going to send you a new version of MathCad.” At this point, Lige and Ellis were ready to take their turn on the fluid, and I posted the video of them on my webpage. Ellis stepped in before the helper person got to her to tell her to jump and not step, so the video ends when I go to help get her out of the pool...Lige learned from Ellis and jumped right across. It's pretty fun (if you ask me...of course, I'm still giddy about the whole day. I mean, I'm popular, people give me free presents, and I'm hanging out with people just as geeky as I am!)

Another fun part of the day - I wore my tshirt that says “Engineers are (integral sign) e^xy. Some of you have seen it. I wear this shirt all the time, and occasionally someone gets it. But I got stopped about every 100 yards at the festival by people telling me I had an awesome shirt. And, the best part of all is that my kids had a blast, too. Sometimes, Mom fun comes at the sacrifice of my kids, but not this time!

So, did I convince anyone?