The theme of the 2016 AAAS Annual Meeting—global science engagement—aligns closely with one of its existing mutual-learning initiatives, Family Science Days (FSD). The 13-14 February event brought together more than 3,000 attendees who had the opportunity to engage with dozens of scientists and explore 30 interactive science exhibits.
From meeting NASA astronaut Daniel Tani to learning the Meissner effect first-hand through experiments from the Joint Quantum Institute, like showing a superconductor levitate on a magnetic track shaped in a series of loops, K-12 children and their families were able to experience and live science through varied exhibit booths and learning stage shows.
Children play an exhibit put together by the Computing Research Association, the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, and KID Museum | Juan David Romero
The purpose of Family Science Days is to give back to the community and share the excitement about science, said AAAS CEO Emeritus Alan Leshner, who brought his two grandsons, aged 6 and 9.
“FSD is unique in the diversity of exhibits. Other associations have started doing this kind of thing, but most focus only on one discipline. AAAS covers the gamut so it can be of interest to young people and their families,” Leshner said.
Tracy Quitasol, who attended the event with her husband and daughter, said there was something for everyone.
“Oh, we loved it!" she said. "My daughter was able to have hands-on experience with almost everything that was there. There were scientists behind every table, so that we had the ability to ask a lot of questions and they explained it in a way that made the kids very interested in science."
According to Jeanne Braha, project director at the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science & Technology, the event helps people engage with scientists, but also provides an opportunity for scientists to both do and see public engagement.
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Photos from Family Science Days. | AAAS/Juan David Romero
Pedro L. Del Valle, pharmacologist and toxicologist at the Food and Drug Administration and president of the National Capital Area Chapter of the Society of Toxicology, said stirring up children’s curiosity for science at an event such as FSD is crucial in instilling science as something that is fun early in their development, Del Valle said. That could play an important role in a child’s decision to pursue STEM fields in the future.
“In the end, I believe every kid that showed up at my booth asked at least one question, even the ones from kindergarten,” Del Valle said.
The event also benefitted the scientists, who may not be experienced in communicating their fields, said Wendy Bohon, an informational education specialist at Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS).
“Generally, scientists are talking but only to each other. This gives scientists the chance to see what things they're good at explaining and what things they can do a better job of communicating. It also can provide them with a refreshing view of their work,” she said.
From left: Charles Greene, Avalon Greene, and Dena Greene | Juan David Romero
According to Dena Greene and her husband Charles Greene, who attended FSD with their daughter Avalon, said they appreciated the efforts to include children and scientists from underrepresented backgrounds. Though the event was free, AAAS provided free lunch and transportation for 100 young people to attend, in partnership with local service organization Beacon House.