04/28/2016  |  Posted By:

The biennial science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) extravaganza known as the USA Science and Engineering Festival may be the only place in the U.S. where you can participate in a chemistry experiment, say hello to colleagues, learn about 3D printing and see penguins in a two-hour timespan.

We definitely needed a map to explore this event. There were more than 1,000 organizations providing educational, family-oriented fun with interactive science displays.

A few of us from JPA headed over to the DC Convention Center on “Sneak Peek Friday.” We paused briefly to marvel at the sheer size of the festival before arriving at our first stop: the National Institutes of Health area, where the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) was set up with word searches and a yoga pose matching activity. NCCIH funds and conducts research to determine the safety and efficacy of complementary health approaches such as yoga, meditation and natural products. Their presence at the festival was a great opportunity to share their work. An NCCIH staff member performed a yoga demonstration over the weekend, highlighting the safest ways to practice this mind-body approach.

As healthcare PR people, we enjoyed our visit to a booth focused on pharmaceutical science, where I joined in on a fun demonstration showing the difference between fast- and slow-acting drugs. We were instructed to select a “coated” capsule (in this case, a Gobstopper candy) or a chalky baking soda tablet to drop into a plastic vial of water and observe the difference in pace as they dissolved. The baking soda tablet, which our scientist guide likened to a fast-acting pain medication, fizzled and dissolved quickly, whereas the coated piece of candy dissipated much more slowly – just as you’d want your allergy medicine to linger for all-day symptom relief.

Hands-on experiments like this really connect kids (and adults) to science in a simple, visual and factual manner. That’s what makes this festival such a fantastic opportunity to introduce kids to scientific discovery in a relevant way. We saw a little boy near the robotics section watch with pure wonder as a mechanical jellyfish ebbed and flowed in a tall water tank. It was a great reminder to not lose our sense of awe at the truly cool innovations we encounter.

The tangible sense of excitement surrounding so many fascinating things happening at the STEM festival reinforced the privilege we have helping to communicate about the healthcare improvements and discoveries our clients contribute to make a healthier world.

My co-workers and I returned to the office refreshed - excited about the future - and still amazed we said a quick hello to a few penguins.