Science lovers flock to NHGRI booth at the USA Science & Engineering Festival

Christina Daulton, educational outreach specialist, Education and Community Involvement Branch, NHGRI, helps booth visitors extract strawberry DNA. (Photo by Maggie Bartlett, NHGRI)
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Every two years, the USA Science & Engineering Festival brings together thousands of families, school groups and science geeks to learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). From April 26-27, 2014, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., teemed with young people who engaged in hands-on activities at more than 750 booths. They learned about STEM careers at the festival's Career Pavilion, listened to guest speakers like Bill Nye from television's Bill Nye the Science Guy and extracted DNA from strawberries using common household products at the booth sponsored by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). Overall, more than 325,000 attended and celebrated science at the festival.

On Sneak Peek Friday, which coincided with the April 25 celebration of National DNA Day, home-schooled students and school groups had the festival to themselves. At NHGRI's booth, Katyusha Fogg and her daughter, who is being home-schooled, were intrigued by the fruit's mucus-like DNA.  

"When you have so many interesting things in one place, it's awesome. It reinforces what I'm teaching her at home," Ms. Fogg said. "We're very, very grateful."

On Saturday and Sunday, visitors to NHGRI's booth participated in the Trait Tree activity. By answering a few questions, they could see how their traits - like whether they have dimples or can roll their tongues - compared to those of other booth visitors. Carla Easter, Ph.D., deputy chief of NHGRI's Education and Community Involvement Branch, who helped organize the booth, said the Trait Tree teaches inheritance and genomics in a family-friendly way.  

"There were parents, grandparents and other family members doing this activity together," she said. "It showed that although we look very different, we have a lot in common."  

From left to right: Rosann Wise, Preetha Nandi, Carla Easter, Kevin Bishop and Faith Harrow were some of the more than 40 NHGRI staff who worked at the booth. (Photo by Maggie Bartlett, NHGRI)
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More than 40 NHGRI staff volunteered at the booth during the weekend. Kevin Bishop, a technician in the Genetics and Molecular Biology Branch, was happy to see so many people interested in genomics.

"Everyone was excited to be at the booth," Mr. Bishop said. "The kids were happy and so were their parents. The energy was awesome."

Festival visitor Chris Kmosko and his son were glad to see that the volunteers' enthusiasm matched that of the people they were engaging. "Seeing all the professionals that love what they do is invaluable for kids to see," he said.

Dr. Easter said this year's activities at the NHGRI booth were a huge success. "I could not have asked for a more positive response," she said. "It's very heartwarming to see everyone enjoying something so much."

Throughout the course of the weekend, 2,000 people visited the NHGRI booth. More than 200 people extracted strawberry DNA on Sneak Peek Friday alone. The next USA Science & Engineering Festival will be held in 2016.

To learn how to extract a strawberry's DNA, read this PDF or watch this video.  

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Posted: May 12, 2014