A Little History… A Lot of Science…
Tons of Fun!
The University of Florida Student Chapter’s Experience at the USA
Science and Engineering Festival and Expo in Washington, D.C.
BY RYAN QUINOÑES AND LAUREN McCARTHY
The 3rd USA Science and Engineering Festival and Expo, held April 24–27, 2014, was an amazing four-day event. For us, the experience of being participants was unlike
any other, from the very beginning.
The result of a national grassroots effort to advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
education and inspire the next generation of scientists and
engineers, the gathering is the largest STEM event in the
United States. The festival is held biennially, and includes a
three-day Expo at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.
At the 2014 festival, there were more than 3,000 different
hands-on activities and experiments, along with countless
scientists, engineers, and students. In addition, there were
more than 100 stage shows featuring science magicians,
song and dance with science cheerleaders, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and much more.
Three members of the ACS student chapter at the University of Florida (UF), Gainesville, FL, including us, participated
as representatives at the UF booth. The delegation at our
booth included 23 students from 9 UF student groups, and
this was the first year that UF’s participants were almost all
undergraduates. Each group designed demonstrations and
activities to entertain the people who visited our booth. In
total, 325,000 people visited the Expo, which meant each
booth saw thousands of visitors daily.
Motivation, then preparation
We originally decided to participate in the Expo because it sounded
like an incredible opportunity to do outreach to a national community, interact with other student groups, and meet interesting
people. Plus, the Expo was being held in Washington, D.C.— and
was free! Who wouldn’t want to go?
The planning process for this event was not too difficult. Our
first task was to choose activities and demonstrations to entertain
the audience, which was mostly made up of younger children. For
the activities, we chose safe experiments that were easily reproducible on a larger scale. The demonstrations we selected required
a few basic materials. We designed them to be dramatic and last
approximately 30 minutes.
One of our three activities was “magic breath,” a simple neutralization reaction. The other activities involved making two types of
slime; one mixed the polyvinyl acetate found in Elmer’s glue with
borax, while the other mixed polyvinyl alcohol with borax. For our
demonstrations, we chose the “imploding can” and the famous
elephant toothpaste, a very volatile reaction of potassium iodide
and hydrogen peroxide.
Nancy Ruzycki, a UF faculty member, coordinated the shipping
of materials to the Expo and handled the logistics of finding lodging and transportation. Nancy was a great resource.
We were responsible for assembling a list of materials to purchase, finding vendors, creating a banner, writing the presentation, and organizing materials for shipment. The tasks related to