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SPIE Celebrates Science at National Expo in D.C.

The USA Science & Engineering Festival was a two-week celebration of science. Beginning Oct. 10, the festival launched 75 satellite events, contests, and exhibits across the country; culminating in the two-day grand finale expo in Washington, D.C. More than 1,500 free, interactive exhibits and 75 stage shows drew half a million people to downtown Washington to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math.

SPIE was in the middle of it all with a booth about Putting Light to Work. The main feature of the booth was the giant, bedazzled kaleidoscope (courtesy of SPIE Member Barbara Darnell). Over the two days, people of all ages lined up to peer through the tube. In fact, there was rarely a moment it wasn’t being used. However, the fun (and learning) did not stop there. Attendees at the booth also learned about optics through hands-on activities involving diffraction gratings, a praxinoscope, an infrared camera, and holograms.

Several SPIE members volunteered at the booth over the weekend. SPIE Fellows Dr. Michael Postek and Dr. Carmiña Londoño each spent a few hours visiting with attendees and explaining optics and photonics concepts. Additionally, SPIE student members from three nearby chapters joined SPIE’s effort. Volunteers included Andrea Rosales of Boston Univ, Yanming Li from North Carolina State Univ, and Katayoon Saadin, Yi-Hsieh Wang, and David Winogradoff, all from the Univ. of Maryland College Park. In total, SPIE students contributed over 40 hours of volunteer time.

Overall it was a very successful event and will likely be repeated in the future. Of the estimated 500,000 people who crossed the National Mall over the two-day period, at least 4,500 of them stopped by the SPIE booth.

Watch the recap video of the Expo (look for SPIE’s giant kaleidoscope at the 2:21 mark).