The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Blind your kids with science

When one is tempted to launch one’s child into space, be sure they have the appropriate equipment. (Michael Colella)
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Remember your science fair? All those tri-fold poster boards and your lame experiment that had little to do with actual science and more to do with driving your parents crazy because you waited until the last minute?

The USA Science & Engineering Festival isn’t that.

“The Air Force is bringing an F-16 and parking that in the middle of the event,” says Marc Schulman, executive director of the festival. “The Coast Guard is pulling out one of their patrol boats from the Potomac and bringing it. The Secret Service is bringing an actual limo.”

All of this is to get kids in grades K-12 to shake off the “mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell” lessons that put them to sleep, especially those who believe that STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — isn’t for them.

“If you are somebody who struggles in math or struggles in science, there is going to be stuff at the festival that you are going to enjoy,” Schulman says. “It’s almost going to trick you into liking math and science.”

The annual festival — the largest of its kind in the country — prides itself on broadening people’s understanding about where they can find STEM. It’s not all test tubes and petri dishes.

“We have about 120 government agencies, stuff like DoD, NASA, NIH, NSA,” Schulman says. “If they have three letters, if they have science in their world, they’re there.”

Still, the festival is not about tempting kids into higher STEM education.

“We have the American Welding Society [with] welding simulators, because skilled trades use just as much STEM as a scientist. Carpenters and plumbers use more STEM on a daily basis than you or I do,” Schulman says. (This reporter can confirm.) “We’re not necessarily proponents of the idea you have to wear a white coat and get a master’s degree.”

Above all, the festival wants to get kids involved, with interactive exhibits and events like “Meet the Scientist & Engineer” in the Career Pavilion. “All of the different exhibits, you have to touch,” Schulman says. “We pride ourselves on the fact that kids leave with their hands dirty.”

Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place NW; Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., free.