USA Science & Engineering Festival

On May 9, 2014 by Grad Forum
Graduate student Hai Qian (chemistry) demonstrates the basic DNA double-helix structure and explains how self-assembly contributes to the formation of DNA structure. Xin Su (chemistry) is in the background.

Graduate student Hai Qian (Department of Chemistry) demonstrates the basic DNA double-helix structure at the “DNA Misbehaving: Self-Assembly Gone Wrong” booth. Fellow graduate student Xin Su (Department of Chemistry) looks on.

On April 26 and 27, Washington DC hosted the 3rd USA Science & Engineering Festival, the largest science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education event in America. An estimated 275,000 people cruised through the Walter E. Washington Convention Center during the event. The free-to-the-public, two-day expo included more than 3,000 hands-on activities and over 150 stage shows for science enthusiasts. This experience provided participating graduate students with an extraordinary opportunity to enhance their communication competence.

A contingent of 33 graduate students and faculty from Dartmouth’s departments of chemistry, computer science, earth sciences, physics and astronomy, and the Thayer School of Engineering attended the event to present hands-on science and engineering activities. The students and faculty who participated in this uniquely large outreach event had the opportunity to engage and share their enthusiasm about science with the public.

Graduate student Ross Lieb-Lappen (Thayer School of Engineering) at the "Polar Detectives - Apply Here!" booth, which was shared between Thayer and the Department of Earth Sciences.

Graduate student Ross Lieb-Lappen (Thayer School of Engineering) at the “Polar Detectives – Apply Here!” booth, which was shared between Thayer and the Department of Earth Sciences.

“I was in awe of the energy, knowledge, and communication talents of the next generation of ice and climate scientists and engineers—our grad students,” quipped Professor of Engineering Mary Albert. Computer Science Professor David Kotz, who is also Associate Dean of the Faculty for the Sciences, echoed her sentiment: “The energy and excitement was tremendous.”

Some of the more memorable moments occurred between graduate students and event attendees. Christine Black, physics and astronomy doctoral student, enjoyed watching everyone’s “great faces when we showed them that the residual heat from their hand prints linger” using an infrared camera. The sense of wonder expressed in the faces of the attendees was a definite highlight. Ben Kopec, earth sciences doctoral student, remarked at the “‘wow’ moment” when he told attendees at his station they were touching a 250-year-old piece of ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet. Kopec also enjoyed explaining glacier flow using “flubber”—a Silly Putty-like concoction of Elmer’s glue, Borax, and water—to ex-NBA player, Theo Ratliff.

Graduate students (from left to right) Mackenzie Jones, Erek Alper, Christine Black, and Erin O'Malley (Department of Physics and Astronomy) at the "Light Hunters: Probing the Dark" booth.

Graduate students (from left to right) Mackenzie Jones, Erek Alper, Christine Black, and Erin O’Malley (Department of Physics and Astronomy) at the “Light Hunters: Probing the Dark” booth.

Graduate students benefitted from learning about scientific work outside the Dartmouth contingent. Erek Alper, physics and astronomy doctoral student, observed a series of quantum mechanics physics experiments, like superconducting magnets levitating on a track. Black really enjoyed a booth about bugs because “they had bugs for you to eat, and that’s always fun.”

Overall, the whole experience—working with different departments, traveling from woodsy Hanover to DC, seeing all of the neat STEM exhibits—was a wonderful mix of science, fun, and friends.

by Gifford Wong

photos by David Kotz

To read more, see Dartmouth Now.

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