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Science & Engineering Festival Aims to Fire Up U.S. Youths

There's been a lot of talk lately about how to tap the interest of America's young people in the STEM fields. One ambitious effort is kicking off this Sunday: the inaugural USA Science & Engineering Festival. The two-week effort, the brainchild of high-tech and life-sciences entrepreneur Larry Bock, will involve activities across the country, and culminate with a two-day expo on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

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"The premise that I'm operating by is society gets what it celebrates," said Bock, who is the executive director of the national festival. "We celebrate Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears and we get a lot of young people who want to be like them."

The leading sponsor for the festival is Lockheed Martin.

Bock said he expects the Oct. 23-24 expo on the Mall to involve roughly 550 organizations with about 1,500 activities and 75 stage shows. He organized a similar festival last year in San Diego, and said the idea came from festivals he's seen in other countries. The core audience is K-12 students and their families, he said.

For a preview of what to expect, check out this video.

Bock emphasized that the festival is "not a competition, it's more a celebration of science and engineering. There will be lots of hands-on activities, but also theater, art, and music, all celebrating science and engineering."

Beyond the two-day expo, the festival involves a range of satellite events and activities across the country this month, including the 4-H Spooky Science Day at Hill Air Force Base in Utah; STEMapalooza in Denver; Super Science Saturday in Baton Rouge, La.; and Telescopes in the Park in Gainesville, Ga.

The opening event for the festival this Sunday will feature a musical performance called "Powers of Ten: A Journey in Song from Quark to Cosmos" at the University of Maryland College Park.

The partners for the festival represent what Bock calls a veritable "who's who" in science and engineering, from the National Academies and the American Association for the Advancement of Science to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and Johns Hopkins University.

The many corporate partners/sponsors beyond Lockheed Martin include Amgen, Cisco, Bechtel, Dow, Intel, Microsoft, and Northrup Grumman, among others.

Also, some 200 elementary and secondary schools are participating in the festival with contests and events.

Given President Obama's keen interest in promoting STEM education, I asked Bock whether he expected the nation's chief executive to make an appearance.

Bock said he couldn't say for sure, but added: "Obama, in a speech to the National Academies, specifically called out this idea of festivals," he said, "so I would hope that if we're having the world's largest science festival in his backyard, he might send his family."

Photo by Collela Photography from a press conference offering a preview of the festival.

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