By Teri Barr
The Excitement of Science
The excitement is palpable. Young people of all ages, noses pressed to the glass while overlooking the cavernous convention center, whispering and waiting. It is just 15 minutes until the 2nd USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. opens its doors, and thousands are ready to stampede into the exhibits. You can overhear the plotting, “I want a picture with Bill Nye the Science Guy,” and “Let’s sit in the front row for the science magician.” But others are more specific in their strategy, focused on future possibilities from, “Help me find a college focused on agribusiness,” to “I want to talk with some plant scientists about their careers.”
The American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) sets up a showcase of hands-on learning, along with real life examples of opportunities available in these fields. Members from each Science Society’s K-12 committee and college students from the D.C. area are ready to offer awareness and answer questions throughout the April 27-29 festival. 500 leading science and engineering organizations from across the United States are partners in what's described as the largest effort of its kind-- aimed at engaging students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.
Soil Science: Sustaining Life
“Isn’t this wonderful,” exclaims Stetson Engineers Senior Soil Scientist Dr. Clay Robinson, or “Dr. Dirt;” the alter-ego he takes on with the younger audience. Robinson, a long-time ASA and SSSA member from Albuquerque says, “This is our chance to talk with students about soil and why it is the source for not only what we eat, but what we wear, where we live and even how we get around." And he doesn't hesitate to engage the potential scientist. "It’s always rewarding to spend time with someone who may choose this important work as their future career,” says “Dr. Dirt” from the SSSA display, featuring a spin-the-wheel game of soil categories, samples to touch and compare, and I heart Soil rulers for participants.
Crop Science: A Better World
Dr. Mike Grusak is one of the volunteers manning the CSSA booth during the weekend. The USDA-ARS Plant Physiologist from Houston, is enjoying this opportunity to share what's special about working with various seeds and crops, while using plants in a hydroponic growing station as an on-site demonstration. “There’s still so much to be done when it comes to the nutrition provided by some plants. And with a continuing concern about feeding an expanding population, while working to get the most nutrients out of a crop, it’s a great time to study this science,” says Grusak, an ASA and CSSA member.
Agronomic Science: Feeding the World
Matching seeds to an eventual product is a draw for visitors to the ASA exhibit. Students are also given packets to plant their own seeds at home. University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, Dr. Brian Marsh, guides the guessing game, including some statements from those who are surprised to learn—food doesn’t just come from the store. “By showing how the seeds turn to plants, and then to the commercial food we find for sale; we’re providing a better understanding of how the business of agronomy works. We’re also highlighting why there’s so many job opportunities at every step of the process,” says the ASA member from Bakersfield.
The science, the careers, the possibilities. The excitement is real. And while this festival aims its focus on the future, it is energizing students to start planning for it, today.
Special thanks to our member volunteers: ASA and SSSA Member Wale Adewunmi, ASA and CSSA Member Mike Grusak, ASA Member Brian Marsh, ASA and SSSA Member Clay Robinson, SSSA Member Melanie Szulczewski, and CSSA Member Greg Welbaum.
And our student volunteers: Erin Batlas, Adrienne Ferral, Liz Gillispie, Amber Koplow, Piyali Kundu, Nathan Lim, Katherine Lopez, Juvencio Mandanga, Marianne Mannix, Sina Mirmozaffari, Constance Renkenberger, Zoe Rosenblum, Gabrielle Rovegno, Jessica Rupprecht, Marianne Varkiani, and Ezekiel Waisel.
Science Festival Organizers share feedback:
C.N. writes: "I can't say enough good things about this event! It was wonderful to see so many children engaged with science, and clearly having fun at the same time! This was probably the best children's festival I have ever attended. Please bring it back to DC next year!"
C.J. writes: "What a FABULOUS Festival! You guys outdid yourselves. The exhibits and volunteers were wonderful. Wish we could have seen more... I am home resting my feet! Thank you!"
NAEYC writes: "It was wonderful to see so many families and teachers who came from a distance to get ideas for their programs."
An Exhibitor writes: "Thank you for allowing us to partner and exhibit. We had a blast and look forward to participating next year."
J.B. writes: "Whoever came up with the idea of the for a Science Festival should be congratulated. It made science fun for my children to learn about."
And L.Y. writes: "How nice to see people excited about science and engineering! Nice switch from what people usually complain about.....lines, crowds at concerts, sporting events, etc! Maybe we are making progress!"
Read more about the USA Science & Engineering Festival at this website: http://www.usasciencefestival.org/
QUIZ; What do you know about Agricultural Science Pioneer Luther Burbank?
1) What did Burbank create as a pioneer in his field?
2) Is there a genetic variant of his development still heavily used today?
3) The lack of something, caused Burbank to fall from favor, despite more than 50 years of successful developments. What was it?
(Find answers below this photo featuring a character actor of Luther Burbank, during the 2012 USA Science & Engineering Festival, and seen here with ASA, CSSA and SSSA members in Washington, D.C.)
1) Luther Burbank created more than 800 new varieties of plants; including fruits, flowers, grains, grasses, and vegetables. The Shasta daisy is one of his many pioneering developments during the late 1800's to early 1900's.
2) The Russet Burbank Potato is considered the most popular baking potato. McDonald's uses the Burbank to make its french fries.
3) Burbank was the 13th of 15 children and only had an elementary education. It meant he often didn't keep accurate records of his developments, pushing instead for results.