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Vol. LXII, No. 23
November 12, 2010
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Collins Rocks the Mall
NIH Attracts Thousands at First USA SciFest

On the front page...

Hundreds of NIH’ers banded together for 2 days in downtown D.C. to show thousands of children and families how the agency turns discovery into health during the USA Science & Engineering Festival held Oct. 23-24. NIH was one of more than 500 science/engineering organizations to present more than 1,500 hands-on exhibits and displays on the National Mall and at Freedom Plaza and Wilson Plaza along Pennsylvania Ave.

An estimated 500,000 people attended the first-of-its-kind festival over the 2 days, according to organizers.

Activities and demonstrations at the event were sprinkled with musical performances, game shows and other entertainment, including a Sunday afternoon mini-concert where NIH director Dr. Francis Collins rocked the Mall tent stage.

Continued...

  NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, “the scientific rock star,” draws an enthusiastic crowd at SciFest.  
  NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, “the scientific rock star,” draws an enthusiastic crowd at SciFest.  

Wonderful World of Science

“I have this alter ego who likes to get up in front of people and make a fool of myself,” he joked, smiling as he took the stage with his acoustic guitar. “You all are part of my alter ego experience.”

Dressed in black jeans and a button-down, Collins looked the part of a “scientific rock star,” which is how he was billed.

Talking to a crowd made up of about half young people and half not, Collins quipped that some of his songs were older than attendees’ parents. He then chatted briefly about some of his own childhood experiences with “boring” classroom science, particularly biology courses. “Science ain’t about memorizing stuff,” he declared. “It’s about figuring things out.”
At the Freedom Plaza location, NHGRI director Dr. Eric Green and daughter Abbey demonstrate how to purify DNA from strawberries using household materials. SciFest participants (from l) Dr. Steven Grant and Dr. David Shurtleff, both of NIDA, and NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow pass around a brain for attendees to see.
At the Freedom Plaza location, NHGRI director Dr. Eric Green and daughter Abbey demonstrate how to purify DNA from strawberries using household materials. SciFest participants (from l) Dr. Steven Grant and Dr. David Shurtleff, both of NIDA, and NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow pass around a brain for attendees to see.
Collins gives a mini-concert on the Mall.  
Collins gives a mini-concert on the Mall.  
Using the tune from Sam Cooke’s 1958 hit Wonderful World, Collins coaxed his audience to join in singing the chorus, “But I do know this stuff is cool/If only they taught more science in school/What a wonderful world this would be.”

Magic of Discovery

Also on the director’s playlist were two hilarious genome-centric songs, We Really Got the Code on You, a take on Smokey Robinson’s You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me and Amazing DNA borrowed from Del Shannon’s Runaway. I Did It Their Way, sung to the tune of classic pop standard My Way, made light of the “student experience.” The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Do You Believe in Magic (of discovery) completed the show.

Games to Rewire the Brain. OBSSR’s Dr. Wendy Nilsen helps a youngster play a game designed to enhance social perception for children with autism.

Games to Rewire the Brain. OBSSR’s Dr. Wendy Nilsen helps a youngster play a game designed to enhance social perception for children with autism.

“That eureka moment just sets you free…do you believe in magic,” sang Collins, in his finale. The artist departed the stage amid calls for an encore.

IC Directors in the Thick of It

Competing with eternal science fan favorites— robots and rockets—NIH features such as “Beating the Odds for Better Health,” “Are You Smarter than a Rat?” and “Attack of the S. mutans 3D video game” also generated their own brand of excitement. Lending more of a carnival atmosphere to the event, the COPD Shuttle virtual ride through the lungs was in operation at the Freedom Plaza site, where several SciFest “mobile labs” had spilled onto Pennsylvania Ave.

At NIH booths, attendees could handle a real brain with NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow at the Mall or extract DNA from a strawberry with NHGRI director Dr. Eric Green at Freedom Plaza.

“I thought the event was outstanding—mission accomplished!” enthused Green afterwards. His daughter Abbey had also been on hand to lend assistance with the extractions.

“She demonstrated how to purify DNA from strawberries using household materials—and did so for 4 straight hours on Sunday morning,” he said. “She had a fabulous time doing this. She visited the other exhibits on Saturday and really enjoyed the festival.”

Dr. Tiziana Cogliati (l) and Dr. Jennifer E. Mehren of NEI volunteer for “More than Meets the Eye.”
Dr. Tiziana Cogliati (l) and Dr. Jennifer E. Mehren of NEI volunteer for “More than Meets the Eye.”
At left, Dr. Diego Capurro, a dental public health resident with NIDCR, watches kids play a 3D game developed by Firsthand Technology through an NIH small business grant. At right, Ari Hollander of Firsthand chats with NIDCR communications director Susan Johnson.
  At left, Dr. Diego Capurro, a dental public health resident with NIDCR, watches kids play a 3D game developed by Firsthand Technology through an NIH small business grant. At right, Ari Hollander of Firsthand chats with NIDCR communications director Susan Johnson.

Special guest Biggest Loser Pete Thomas (r), who has lost 185 pounds, shares his life-size “before” photo as well as tips for healthy eating. He’s joined by NIH Executive Chef Robert Hedetniemi.
Special guest Biggest Loser Pete Thomas (r), who has lost 185 pounds, shares his life-size “before” photo as well as tips for healthy eating. He’s joined by NIH Executive Chef Robert Hedetniemi.

Using a bracelet scanner, a youngster checks himself in at the “Beating the Odds for Better Health” exhibit.

Using a bracelet scanner, a youngster checks himself in at the “Beating the Odds for Better Health” exhibit.

Nation’s Science Orgs, Side by Side

Alongside exhibits from other federal science agencies such as the Department of Energy, NASA and the National Science Foundation were offerings from academia such as “The Physics of Music” from American University, “Insectopia” from Duke University and “Legos Can Show What Happens on the Nanoscale” from Johns Hopkins University. Media organizations such as PBS Kids sent mascots from such hit shows as Dinosaur Train and Sid the Science Kid.

Lockheed Martin, one of several festival corporate sponsors, offered more than 2 dozen exhibits, including “Sprockit the Interactive Robot” and “3D Journey Across Mars.”

On the National Mall, hundreds of visitors gather at NIH tents, which were themed “Turning Discovery into Health.”
On the National Mall, hundreds of visitors gather at NIH tents, which were themed “Turning Discovery into Health.”

Dozens of satellite events focusing on science were also conducted around the nation throughout October.

John Burklow, NIH associate director for communications and public liaison, and Dr. Bruce Fuchs, director of the Office of Science Education, chaired the NIH-wide SciFest effort. OSE’s Dr. Dave Vannier coordinated agency activities and exhibits with several hundred NIH volunteers.

“The event enabled youth to learn, discover, interact and embrace the joys of science and engineering,” said Randy Schools, president of the Recreation & Welfare Association, who also helped organize NIH’s involvement. “The scientific community came together and showcased many of their success stories.”

To see video of the event, go to www.usasciencefestival. org. NIHRecord Icon


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