Touching the future
Children examine lime-green chunks of a futuristic armor material at the Army Research Laboratory exhibit on the National Mall during the 2010 USA Science and Engineering Festival. The "gooey green stuff" had properties similar to robots in the movie "The Terminator" as it congealed in the bowl and liquefied when touched.

WASHINGTON -- The 2010 USA Science and Engineering Festival brought 300 interactive exhibits to the National Mall here Oct. 23-24, delivering an enlightening, stimulating display of science and engineering to thousands of visitors both young and old.

The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command showcased technologies at three exhibits during the expo, part of 27 exhibits from Department of Defense agencies.

Participating from RDECOM were teams from the Army Research Laboratory; the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center; and the Aviation, Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center.

Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, RDECOM commanding general, visited the expo Oct. 24 to see the command exhibits and meet with other military participants.

"I've got the new dog tag," Justice said, raising a small plastic vial hanging on a neon-green necklace around his neck. "It's my DNA. That's how we're going to identify everyone in the future."

Staff from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research showed visitors how to collect a sample of their DNA, and gave it to them to take home and show their friends and families.

"Kids were five to six deep looking at our exhibit," said Sarah Maxwell of ARL. The Army's latest flexible, touch-screen display and a bowl of lime-green, futuristic armor material intrigued ARL visitors.

The COMET, short for Command & Control Multi-touch Enabled Table, a touch-screen tabletop battlefield display, engaged visitors at the CERDEC exhibit, as did Mike Sullivan and Yong Park, engineers with CERDEC's Command and Control Directorate.

"Over the two days, we saw hundreds of children and families," reported CERDEC outreach coordinator Erica Bertoli. "CERDEC was on hand to discuss the realities of the high-tech Army, and give young people a hands-on experience with some cutting-edge technology. They also engaged with our engineers for firsthand realities of being a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professional."

At the AMRDEC exhibit, visitors grabbed the controls of the Avenger table-top trainer for a hands-on air defense training experience under the watchful eye of Michael Hanners, a member of the Control and Electronics Integration Technology Function in the Weapons Development and Integration Directorate.

Justice met briefly with Zachary Lemnios, director for Defense Research and Engineering, a member of the Assistant Secretary of the Army, Acquisition, Logistics and Technology team responsible for coordinating DoD support for the festival. Lemnios' office also manages STEM outreach for the DoD.

"I'm here this morning to take a good look at all these booths that are set up from the Department of Defense. It's really an opportunity for kids to see the future they have in science and technology, ways they can provide insight and expertise and protect our nation," Lemnios said.

"There are things from body armor the Army's working on, to advanced robotics the Navy is working on, to flight simulators and robotics in all forms. It's just a great day. It's a way for kids to see what the future holds," he added.

The expo was the culmination of the two-week festival that began Oct. 10 with a concert by more than 200 children and adults at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md.

President Obama honored several groups of young scientists at the White House Science Fair Oct. 18, including "The Hardheads," national winners of the U.S. Army's eCybermission program, conducted annually by RDECOM. The Hardheads, from Mirman School in Los Angeles, presented their award-winning project -- experiments on multiple materials for possible use in sports helmets - at the White House.

Ashley Wade, outreach coordinator for the Army Research Office, a division of the ARL, headquartered at Research Triangle Park, N.C., said the festival's first-year effort came together quickly, and would improve next year.

"The ASA/ALT reached out to us and asked us to work with the organizers of the event to have some Army presence, some research and scientific presence," Wade said.

"Thousands of people have turned out. It's a great opportunity for us to reach out to the public and show them that the Army is doing some amazing, cutting-edge science and engineering and really give them an understanding of what we do, especially what we do to support the Soldier," she added.

Addressing the importance of STEM outreach, Wade was effusive.

"I've been doing STEM education for about two years. I meet people that are in the Army in all different labs, all different career fields, who all have a passion to educate the public for science and engineering. We're all concerned about scientific literacy of our nation. It's important for national defense," she said.

"A lot of us work really hard to make sure the public understands the importance of it. You can really see at events like this. You meet people who aren't scientists, they're not engineers, but they've brought their kids out to show them that these are career options that they may not have thought of.

"I'm glad to be here," Wade said. "This has been a fantastic experience for a first event. And the Army will be here again next year if I have anything to do with it."

The expo featured more than 1,500 hands-on science activities and more than 75 performances on four stages in the Mall.

A grassroots collaboration of more than 500 of the nation's leading science organizations, the festival was hosted by an Honorary Congressional Committee with more than 100 members of Congress supporting the effort.



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Page last updated Tue October 26th, 2010 at 15:04