October 21, 2010 | 6
It’s common knowledge that the U.S. no longer produces enough scientists and engineers to keep pace with the rest of the world. Now, the organizers of the USA Science & Engineering Festival are doing something about it, with a two-week, nationwide extravaganza for left-brain-leaning young people that culminates this weekend in Washington, D.C. A grand finale expo will feature hands-on exhibits, science-inspired songs and educational workshops. Scientific American is a media sponsor of the event.
One of the weekend’s highlights is the final stage of a Rubik’s Cube-solving tournament featuring an appearance by the puzzle’s inventor, Erno Rubik, who will also receive a Lifetime Science Education Achievement Award from the festival. Winners in each of the two age groups—one for grammar school students, the other for high school students—will receive $1,000 in prize money.
The expo also features an announcement of the winners of two video competitions, one for videos made by science teachers and another for videos made students. The Great Science Teacher contest involved assessing videos of teachers explaining any one of a number of science concepts—including projectile motion, the general theory of relativity and Newton’s third law of motion—for a first-place prize of $3,500. Winners of the Why Science is Cool student video contest will be announced on October 24. First prize includes $1,000 and a $500 electronics gift certificate or HD camcorder (valued up to $500).
This weekend’s exhibits, located on the National Mall and in the surrounding area, include a jazz-playing robot named Shimon and a 3-D simulated journey across Mars as well as virtual nanotech and deep-sea Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle (UAV) demonstrations.
"We believe events like the Festival are key to engaging with the public, specifically the youth demographic, to demonstrate how fun and interesting STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] education and careers in those fields can be," Zachary Lemnios, the U.S. Defense Department’s Director of Defense Research and Engineering, wrote in a statement e-mailed to Scientific American. Lemnios is expected to attend the festival this weekend, touring Defense Department and other exhibits as well as interacting with students.
The Defense Department’s participation in the festival will include 23 hands-on interactive exhibits from a wide variety of Department Labs, including: the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. One exhibit even includes a piece of glacial ice transported from Alaska "to help aspiring young scientists get first-hand exposure to geological, environmental and climate principles," according to Lemnios.
Image of the National Mall, where much of this weekend’s festival will take place, courtesy of Raul654, via Wikimedia Commons