NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Celebrating Science and Engineering in Washington, DC

Please welcome our new guest blogger, Dr. Christina Richey!

Over 3,000 booths, 100 stage shows, a book fair, a career fair, and an estimated 100,000 people each day gathered in one building. At times you’d smell something burning, or you’d hear an explosion followed by squeals of pure excitement. Throngs of people would cheer on races across cornstarch and the occasional astronaut would walk by. All the while folks waited in line to meet people like The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik. In the midst of organized chaos on Saturday and Sunday, I realized one thing: I love science! The USA Science & Engineering Festival was held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on April 28th & 29th and lived up to its claims as “the largest celebration of science and engineering in the USA”. It was, indeed, a large, boisterous celebration.

Credit: Christina Richey

I was a volunteer scientist at the booth for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in the NASA Pavilion area. For the entire weekend, we had a steady flow of kids and adults visiting to our booth to make star life cycle bookmarks, watch the JWST deployment video, or hold pieces of hardware. All the while they got to learn about the JWST from the scientists and engineers working on the project.

The entrance of the NASA Pavilion area greeted you with the music of Third Rock Radio, America’s Space Radio Station. Once you entered the pavilion area, it was everything NASA squeezed into a hallway of booths. Along with the JWST, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), Kepler, Fermi, Dawn, and MESSENGER missions were all represented, as were the Challenger Center, Landsat, the International Space Station (ISS), and many more. Each booth was filled with scientists, engineers, and educators on hand, ready to excite children and adults alike about what we do on a daily basis.

Credit: Christina Richey

My booth was directly across from the area where NASA Astronaut Leland Melvin was signing autographs and meeting the kids. A small version of the hyperwall (a video wall capable of displaying multiple high-definition data visualizations and/or images simultaneously across an arrangement of screens) was up, with presentations by scientists in the Earth, Planetary, and Astrophysics fields. And this was just the NASA Pavilion Area! Luckily, I had the opportunity to explore the exhibits during each of the afternoons. It was an amazing sight to see so many fields of science and engineering represented.

The MythBusters put on a fantastic stage show on the Curie Stage while the Science Cheerleaders pepped up the crowd at the Wright Brothers Stage. There were a large section of schools and industries with booths in the career fair, which was meant to give high school students the opportunity to see what careers were available in science and engineering. One of my favorite places to stop was the Orion Service Module (hosted by Lockheed Martin), where kids had the chance to look inside the concept vehicle of a planned beyond low-Earth orbit manned spacecraft mission.

Credit: Christina Richey

Another great spot was The Planetary Society’s booth, where people stood in line for hours to meet with Bill Nye and hear talks from astronaut Tom Jones and astrophysicist Lisa Randall. I even had the chance to get up close to an Olympic medal from the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, which was a rather interesting and rare opportunity given the fact that the United States boycotted those particular games.

Credit: Christina Richey

I also had the chance to listen in on a Q&A session with a group of astronauts at the Lockheed Martin booth and see their hallway of model satellites, including a rather impressive Hubble model.

Credit: Christina Richey

Another of my personal (nerd-tastic) favorites was the booth for “R2DC”, or rather the R2D2 builders of DC, where two Star Wars R2D2 robots were spinning and wheeling about, beeping out greetings to the kids that walked by. And there was an entire section for the National Robot Festival and DIY Expo, where kids were building robots and launchers. More squeals of excitement and cheers for explosions or battling robots. For an entire weekend, science and engineering overtook the DC area and it was awesome!

Credit: Christina Richey



NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration