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Faculty, Staff, and Students Will Serve Up Science

By Mike Unger

Photo: Nate Harshman

Physics professor Nate Harshman talking to a visitor at the 2011 USA Science and Engineering Festival on the National Mall

American University’s exhibits at last year’s USA Science and Engineering Festival on the National Mall were so successful AU’s science wonks are hungry for more.

The April 27 – 28 festival has moved to the Washington Convention Center this year, and AU is back for seconds. Its theme: science in the kitchen.

“It’s actually science in the kitchen, by the kitchen, and for the kitchen,” said Professor Nathan Harshman. “Biology is going to be extracting DNA from food. Public health is going to be talking about the psychology of portion sizes, how portion sizes are not intuitive. Chemistry has provided us with a demonstration about how browning works. If you add a tiny pinch of baking soda to onions they brown very fast. They’ll also be talking about how microwaves work.”

Harshman is expecting more than 60 faculty, staff, and students to volunteer to staff the booth.

The USA Science and Engineering Festival’s mission is “to re-invigorate the interest of our nation’s youth in science, technology, engineering and math by producing and presenting the most compelling, exciting, educational and entertaining science festival in the United States.”

Harshman estimates that last year AU’s booths, which presented the physics of music, attracted 10,000 unique visitors. That’s beneficial for a number of reasons.

“Science outreach is important,” he said. “We need people who are educated about science to go into science, but we also need people who don’t go into those disciplines to be educated enough to make good decisions on policy and funding.

“It’s also a great opportunity for our science students. Graduate schools and fellowships are now asking about your experience in outreach. It’s become central to the mission of a research university’s science department.”