By Patricia Hall, FairfaxFamilyFun.com
It’s back! The huge and hugely popular USA Science and Engineering Festival takes place every two years, and it returns soon to the Washington, DC Convention Center. The festival, the largest one celebrating science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the United States, is a major event that features researchers, academics, and celebrities. Best of all, it’s fun, it’s free, there’s much to see, and there are many hands-on opportunities for children (and adults!) to learn. This year, the event expo takes place on April 7-8, 2018 (10 am to 6 pm on Saturday and 10 am to 4 pm on Sunday).
The purpose of the festival is to get the public excited about STEM developments and education. With more than 3,000 hands-on activities across multiple disciplines, 150 stage shows, hundreds of exhibitors, a book fair, educational programs, and more, it’s a fantastic way to learn about the world around us and what the future holds. Past science celebrities that have attended include Bill Nye the Science Guy, futurist Dr. Michio Kaku, actress and mathematician Danica McKellar, the Mythbusters, and the band They Might Be Giants, which has a popular album about science songs.
This is a family-friendly event with activities for all ages and will appeal to everyone from the youngest kids who just enjoy the fun of science to highly trained professionals seeking the latest news and developments in their STEM industries. In all, the festival boasts more than 3,000 fun activities!
Although the USA Science and Engineering Festival expo is its “Grand Finale,” the festival also features nationwide contests and school programs, including the popular ‘Nifty Fifty’ science speaker program and X-STEM Symposium for middle and high school students. There also is a “Sneak Peek Friday” kicking off the weekend; the sneak peek is for K-12 school groups, homeschoolers, and military families. Over the weekend, the event organizers expect more than 350,000 attendees during the two days of the expo.
You can see the detailed list of exhibits, stage shows, and more on the event website. Special events for 2018 include the return of popular stage shows by Art Benjamin, the “Mathemagician,” the Science Cheerleaders (pro cheerleaders turned scientists), “Mr. Freeze,” and others. These shows are hugely educational and entertaining and this years’s line-up also includes “explosive scientist” Katie Bierderdorf, “stunt scientist” Steve Wolf, and NASA Astronaut Jessica Mier.
Please remember that this festival really is very large and takes place in a huge exhibit hall, so really look at the website to read the descriptions and start planning what you might want to see. Have a “plan B” or second choice for everything, as even the booths in the exhibit hall can get very crowded. Be sure to bring water to drink and wear comfortable shoes! If you’re going to what you think will be a popular session, get there early as seats and good viewing spots go quickly. See our Top Six Festival Tips to make your attendance at the event more pleasant and productive… these are the things we have learned from attending in previous years!
And honestly, to get the most out of it, you probably should go to the festival both days, Saturday and Sunday. There is a tremendous amount to see and do and this will allow you to go at a better pace and return to something if it was too busy when you got there. (In 2012 with friends and decided, in fact, to make it a mini “staycation” by booking a hotel in DC for the night, and it was a great decision, especially with young children in tow!)