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Science and Engineering Depts. Take Show on Road

500,000 Attended Expo on the National Mall

Creators of the inaugural USA Science & Engineering Festival, held recently in the nation’s capital, hope it will inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

UMass Lowell joined more than 800 of the nation’s leading science organizations and institutions in exhibiting at the USA Science & Engineering Festival held in Washington, D.C., which attracted thousands of young kids and their parents each day.

Faculty and staff members, students and friends worked the booths presented by the Computer Science Department, the NSF Center for High-Rate Nanomanufacturing (CHN) at UMass Lowell, the Plastics Engineering Department, the SLICE (Service Learning Integrated throughout a College of Engineering) program at the Francis College of Engineering, UMass Lowell’s Baseball Research Center and the UMass Intercampus Graduate Program in Marine Sciences and Technology.

“It was an awesome event!” says Prof. Robert Malloy, chair of the Plastics Engineering Department. “I could not get over how busy it was and how interested people were in what we were all doing. People were coming to the booths non-stop ߞ; from the time it opened to the time it closed.”

Half-Million People Attended

“According to the official tally, about a half million people of all ages attended the expo on the National Mall on Oct. 23 and 24, with an additional 250,000 participating in 82 satellite events in 27 states across the nation,” says Prof. Robert Gamache, dean of the UMass School of Marine Sciences.

The two-week festival culminated in the two-day expo, which featured hundreds of exhibits as well as more than 1,500 hands-on, interactive activities. In addition, there were more than 75 stage shows and performances showcasing science celebrities, Nobel laureates, inventors, magicians, comedians, jugglers, rappers and more.

"There were so many kids eager to learn about engineering and science. The highlight for me was seeing the kids’ faces light up as they learned something new,” says chemical engineering grad student Nicole Sambursky. “We also saw Bill Nye the Science Guy at the expo as well as other celebrities from TV shows such as 'Myth Busters' and 'Meteorite Men'.”

Internet's 'Inventor' Stops By 

“We had a continuous, high-volume stream of visitors, both adults and families with children,” says plastics engineering Professor and CHN Associate Director Carol Barry. “A number of visitors were high-school students looking at colleges so we did some recruiting. There were also Kߝ12 teachers looking for information about nanotechnology.”

Barry and her team demonstrated electrospinning and showed how butyl rubber materials are developed for chemical protective suits, a project that was funded by the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center.

“This activity was a hit with both adults and children,” she says. “In addition, plastics engineering grad student Tatiya Trongsatitkul showed off some new smart-shape memory polymers that her research group had developed, with the audience helping test the durability of these materials.”

iSense App Debuts

“Our iSENSE exhibit was also a big hit,” says computer science Assoc. Prof. Fred Martin, referring to the web system ߞ; the Internet System for Networked Sensor Experimentation ߞ; that enables users to contribute data collected using classroom probes and other sensor hardware, view and analyze data from other contributors, and combine data from multiple sources to examine regional, national and global phenomena. 

“Visitors really loved the iSENSE project,” he says. “Many found ways to connect it with their own interests, including Vinton Cerf, a.k.a. the inventor of the Internet ߞ; yes, really ߞ; and presently ‘VP and Chief Internet Evangelist’ at Google.”

In one of the iSENSE demos, visitors were invited to enter their hometowns into the People Plotter, creating an interactive Google map of where festival-goers came from.

“As expected, most people were local, but we did record visitors from across the United States, including Alaska, as well as Europe, Asia and Africa,” says Martin.

The iSENSE research team also timed the launch of its Android mobile-phone application during the festival.

“People were excited to download the app to their phone and use it,” said Martin. “The iSENSE Android application allows them to access the features of the website, such as data visualization and contribution, as well as contribute data recorded directly by their Android mobile phone.” (See eNews story about the app.)

Martin found the festival to be an extremely invigorating and rewarding experience overall.

“We hope it becomes a regular event,” he says.

The UMass Lowell delegation that participated in the science and engineering festival.