Steward Pickett attends USA Science and Engineering Festival

The USA Science & Engineering Festival is a huge event aimed at the general public, to highlight science, mathematics, and technology. Held periodically at the Convention Center in Washington, DC., the Festival features speakers, performances, exhibitions, and booths. This year, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) sponsored a booth, and the theme was urban ecology. Steward Pickett, Lead PI of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) LTER and President of ESA, spent several stints at the booth interacting with visitors. The booth featured some live exhibits, including plants that could be found in cities and suburbs, and a terrarium containing forest floor plants, animals, and structure.

A third attraction was a poster of six images that constituted an urban ecology game. Throwing a fuzzy die identified which graphic the folks at the booth would use to interact with the contestant or group of contestants. This is a tool that we will adopt for BES, changing some of the images to focus on the Baltimore urban ecosystem. For DC, the images included

  1. The heat island of the National Mall and downtown
  2. A jumping spider
  3. A red tailed hawk consuming a pigeon while perched on an air conditioning unit
  4. A coyote
  5. A woodlouse
  6. An 1840s painting of the White House with the free flowing Tiber Creek in the foreground

This collection of images, put together by Nadine Lymn, the Public Affairs Director of ESA, proved to be an extremely engaging set, and effectively engaged visitors with the idea of interactions, adaptation, and the fact that urban areas are ecosystems.

Children and parents, groups of teenagers, and even several soldiers on leave made up the roster of the hundreds of people who visited the booth. The diversity of the attendees was notable, and participation in this Festival is a rewarding and productive “broader impact.” I look forward to having more of my colleagues from BES LTER participate when the Festival rolls around in another couple of years. Perhaps the LTER Network would find this an interesting venue in general.

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