This year, AAAS volunteers had a special role to play at the USA Science and Engineering Festival held annually in Washington D.C. The April 26-27 festival, which drew more than 350,000 people, included a phalanx of volunteers who generously donated their time and expertise—including 75 volunteers who assisted at the AAAS activity stations. One such volunteer was Dorothy Jones-Davis, an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the National Science Foundation, who engaged festivalgoers in exploring the physiology, function, and wonders of the human brain. She shared highlights from her time at the festival.
AAASMember Central (AAASMC): Was this your first time volunteering at the science festival?
Dorothy Jones-Davis: This was my first time attending the USA Science & Engineering Festival, although I have done a number of other similar types of outreach events.
AAASMC: You engaged people in the wonders of the human brain. What was your favorite thing to explain? Did you have any really surprising questions from the audience?
Jones-Davis: I enjoyed seeing people's faces as they realized the auditory illusions I was demonstrating, as well as explaining "yes, that's a real brain," when referring to the human brain sections we had displayed.
AAASMC: What is your favorite thing about engaging with the public?
Jones-Davis: Explaining science in a way that makes the public "want more." Getting kids motivated to ask more questions about the scientific concepts that I've explained to them.
AAASMC: What is the most challenging thing about engaging with the public?
Jones-Davis: It's difficult when the public comes with misconceptions about science, and when you try to explain the true explanation of a phenomenon, you can tell they just don't believe you. It's also hard when kids are unwilling to try out science because they think it's too hard, or too boring, or just not fun. While I enjoy when I can engage those students, in a venue such as the USA S&E Festival, sometimes you can't catch everyone, and so you'll see a student, stop, look at your booth, and then walk away. It's difficult to watch that happen.
AAASMC: Anything else you'd like to add?
Jones-Davis: The organizers did a great job of getting a diverse cross-section of attendees. I met folks of all ages, all backgrounds, who wanted to hear more about science and the brain. As a neuroscientist, it was amazing to explain what the brain does, and to see people get excited about learning about the brain. How cool is that?