ISB at USA Science and Engineering Festival

ISB scientists Aaron Brooks (Baliga Lab) and Martin Shelton (Hood Lab) attended the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington D.C. on April 26-27. They, and ISB senior research engineer, Chris Lausted, developed an interactive network activity involving circuit boxes that represent nodes and fiber optic cables to connect them. The project and trip to D.C. were supported by funds through NIH/NIGMS and ISB’s Center for Systems Biology.

ISB Aaron Brooks USA Science and Engineering Festival. Photo by: Martin Shelton.

ISB’s Aaron Brooks at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. Photo by: Martin Shelton.

From Brooks: “The event was incredibly impressive with nearly 350,000 attendees and representation from all STEM-related fields. There were brains and robots – iconic celebrities and scientific characters – 3D printers and simulators. People came from around the entire region to celebrate science. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. I can only imagine how wonderful it must have been from the perspective of an innately curious child. It gave me that childhood excitement of seeing something spectacular for the very first time! People lined up well before opening and stayed until they were kicked out.

“The exhibits – including our own – challenged visitors to ask questions about their world, to explore, and to dream big; to confront challenges and address them using the power of the scientific method. Some of the most successful exhibits I saw evoked a sense of wonder about how the world works. Often there would be an observation that was ‘weird’ or somehow out of place. Through play, visitors would get a chance to ‘figure it out’ – gaining a new impression of how the world works and learning approaches to unravel its complexity in the process. Our network activity was no exception.

USA Science and Engineering Festival 2014. Photo by: Aaron Brooks/ISB.

View of the event hall at the 2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. Photo by: Aaron Brooks/ISB.

“We translated the abstract world of networks and systems biology into an engaging hands-on exploration of the relationship between network topology and dynamics. We didn’t even have to mention genes or proteins, molecules or DNA and were still able to give an impression of how systems work. In the process, we made connections to diverse aspects of our world – from communication networks to networks of social contagion. We encouraged thinking about the world in a unified way: ‘Networks are all around you.’ Our activity showcased how thinking in network terms is a valuable way to understand the interconnectedness of our world – biological or not.” Learn more about Aaron Brooks‘s work.

From Shelton: “There was a point, while walking the kids through the activities, where their eyes would light up and they would smile, and you knew that they understood. I think many scientists became scientists because they fell in love with that very same feeling as a kid—the joy of learning something new that changes your perspective and understanding of the world around you. To be a part of that for someone else was extremely gratifying.” Learn more about Martin Shelton’s work.

Related Molecular Me stories: USA Science & Engineering Festival, ISB In the News: NIH, Viral Networks and Systems Biology

Read more about the USA Science & Engineering Festival in the Epoch Times and view a photo gallery here.