U talent represented at science expo

The USA Science & Engineering Festival builds high school involvement.

by Frank

The University of Minnesota will be represented twice this month in the first-ever USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C.
James Kakalios, professor of âÄúEverything I Know About Physics I Learned By Reading Comic Books,âÄù a past freshman seminar at the University, was selected for the Nifty Fifty program. The program is composed of a group of more than 50 noted science and engineering professors from institutions across the country.

From Oct. 10 to 24, the professors will be involved in a series of events around the Washington, D.C., area to try to build more interest in science and engineering among high school students.
The last two days of the two-week event will be dedicated to a two-day expo on the National Mall where about 1,000 organizations will be represented.
âÄúSociety gets what it celebrates,âÄù Larry Bock, founder of the science festival, said.
âÄúWe celebrate Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears and we generate a lot of wannabe Lindsay Lohans and Britney Spears,âÄù Bock said. âÄúBut we donâÄôt celebrate scientists or engineers âÄî so why not?âÄù

The UniversityâÄôs National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics will also be represented at the two-day expo.
The NCEDâÄôs booth during the expo will feature a âÄúrain-tableâÄù in which many people together can touch a topographic map and explore where water goes when it rains.
The NCEDâÄôs âÄúrain-tableâÄù is one of four featured displays by the National Science Foundation, said Karen Campbell, education director of NCED.

BockâÄôs previous success with a more regional science festival led to the larger-scale one in Washington, D.C.
In 2009, Bock organized a month-long regional fair in San Diego, which was followed by a one-day expo.
A quarter of a million people participated in the science festival in San Diego, including more than 100,000 visitors during the expo.
âÄúThere was literally an eight-mile backup on the freeway trying to get to the event,âÄù Bock said.

One of BockâÄôs major sponsors, Lockheed Martin, convinced Bock to move the festival nationally. He hopes this monthâÄôs festival draws more than a million participants.
âÄúI call it the million-nerd march,âÄù Kakalios said. âÄúNerds basically run this planet.âÄù Kakalios will be speaking at a public high school in Chantilly, Virginia this Friday at a part of the Nifty Fifty events. He will also be involved with lectures at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Kakalios is honored by the distinction.
âÄúIâÄôm with a group of Nobel Laureates and distinguished scientists across all disciplines,âÄù Kakalios said. âÄúThese are the people [organizers] think could speak to one of the toughest audiences imaginable âÄî high school students.âÄù
âÄúBut I have a secret weapon,âÄù he said. âÄúNamely, superheroes.âÄù
Kakalios said he used superhero comic book examples to teach basic physics concepts in his freshman seminar.

One feature of the Science and Engineering Festival is having âÄúsatellite eventsâÄù across the country, including one event in Minnesota, said Aimee Stern, spokeswoman for the festival.
All events, including the satellite events and the expo, are free and open to the public.
âÄúI hope [the festival] gets woven into the fabric of our society,âÄù Bock said, âÄúto a pinnacle where once a year, we come together as a society and celebrate science and engineering.âÄù