It was cold, wet, and muddy in the large white tent that served as the home of the 2011 National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall, but it did not deter hundreds of people from coming to observe what one attendee called “a science fair for adults.”
As it has in past years, AAAS played a prominent role in the Expo, which was a part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) annual Earth Day celebration in Washington, D.C. With the purpose of bringing together students, scientists, engineers, and business leaders, the Expo showcased innovative technologies designed to advance economic growth while reducing environmental impact.
Highlighting its commitment to green education, a separate AAAS booth featured students from Spark Club, AAAS’s after-school curriculum for 6th-8th graders. The Expo gave the students an opportunity to talk with attendees about what they have learned about green energy and to demonstrate one of their science projects, which is focused on wind turbines and solar power systems.
Spark Club, funded by the National Science Foundation and now in its second year, runs for eight weeks each spring and is now active in seven D.C. schools—a public school, four public charter schools, and two Catholic schools. It has given the students a greater interest in pursuing science as a career, said Bob Hirshon, senior project director for AAAS Education and Human Resources.
“A key element of Spark Club is making kids active and empowered in science,” Hirshon said. “After they’ve completed Spark Club, they will know more about wind and solar energy than many adults, they will know how to use an electrical multimeter, and they will know about the pros and cons of various energy sources.”
“This sort of mastery gives kids the confidence to take more science courses in school and participate in other extracurricular science activities,” he noted. “And, ultimately, it leads them to become more active and engaged consumers of science information.”
During the Expo, held 16-17 April, AAAS also coordinated the judging for EPA’s 7th annual P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability. The competition provides a platform for college teams from across the country to display their sustainable projects designed to protect the environment, encourage economic growth, and use natural resources more efficiently. This year, six winners were selected from 55 competing teams following two days of judging by a panel of national experts convened by AAAS. Each P3 award-winning team receives a grant of up to $75,000 to further develop the design, implement it in the field, or move it to the marketplace.
For one project, a team of students from the University of Delaware designed and developed apparel and footwear products from resins, polyurethane foams, adhesive, and nonwoven insulative materials derived from plant oils and chicken feathers. The project, a collaboration between science students and fashion students, won an honorable mention in the competition and was a showcase for collaboration across seemingly disparate disciplines.
Professor Richard Wool, one of the faculty advisors to the student team, said that the idea for combining fashion with the science of sustainable materials came out of work his students were doing with natural fibers and soy resins. The project resulted in new breathable materials that could be a substitute for leather. After discussing some of the sustainability issues in the fashion industry with Professor Huantian Cao of the university’s fashion department, the two decided to bring their teams together to collaborate on the EPA competition.
“Our new eco-shoes were met with great enthusiasm and excitement by the public and fellow green scientists,” Wool said.
Wool said competitions like this are important for giving students a real-world sense of the impact of the ideas that are conceived in the classroom. It also empowers them to realize that their designs can address huge global pollution problems, he said, while enabling new economic development.
Learn more about AAAS Education and Human Resources programs.