NASA sci­en­tists host Earth Day event for stu­dents

Raises aware­ness of en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY JULIA BROUIL­LETTE

Any­one can use sci­ence to help im­prove and pre­serve the en­vi­ron­ment, NASA sci­en­tists told hun­dreds of stu­dents at the agency’s an­nual “Earth Day in the Na­tion’s Cap­i­tal” event Thurs­day.

“You don’t have to be a rocket sci­en­tist — you don’t even have to be an adult — to make life bet­ter on this planet,” said Michael Freilich, di­rec­tor of the Earth Sci­ence Di­vi­sion at NASA.

Earth Day is cel­e­brated world­wide on April 22. But for the last five years, NASA has hon­ored the day with an ac­tiv­ity-packed event aimed at ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple of all ages about the agency’s mis­sion and fo­cus on en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence.

Groups of stu­dents and ed­u­ca­tors poured into Union Sta­tion’s main hall to watch in­ter­ac­tive demon­stra­tions, par­tic­i­pate in sci­ence ex­per­i­ments and meet NASA as­tro­naut Scott Alt­man.

The event stage fea­tured a 6-foot-tall Hy­per wall dis­play, with nine high-def­i­ni­tion screens show­ing de­tailed satellite images and an­i­ma­tions. Sur­round­ing the stage, NASA em­ploy­ees at 20 ed­u­ca­tional booths an­swered par­tic­i­pants’ ques­tions and gave demon­stra­tions on sub­jects like pol­lu­tion and the earth’s at­mos­phere.

The free pro­gram is meant to en­gage stu­dents and the gen­eral pub­lic in sci­ence, said NASA out­reach co­or­di­na­tor Win­nie Hum­ber­son, who helped or­ga­nize the event.

“A lot of peo­ple think there’s a dis­con­nect be­tween sci­ence and their in­di­vid­ual ev­ery­day ex­pe­ri­ences,” she said. “We want to raise aware­ness for the im­por­tance of sci­ence and re­late it to ev­ery­day life.”

NASA spokesman Sean Pot­ter said roughly 3,000 to 5,000 peo­ple typ­i­cally take part in the pro­gram, which was on the Na­tional Mall for nearly 20 years. NASA moved the event to Union Sta­tion in 2013.

Turnout for the event has in­creased since NASA be­gan set­ting up ed­u­ca­tional booths and ac­tiv­ity ar­eas in Wash­ing­ton’s cen­tral transportation hub, Mr. Pot­ter said.

“It al­lows us to po­ten­tially reach folks who are just pass­ing through, on their way to work or on a busi­ness trip, who might not oth­er­wise know this was go­ing on,” he said.

Vir­gil Car­man, Jr., pres­i­dent of Men Em­pow­er­ing Na­tions, a New Jersey-based men­tor­ship or­ga­ni­za­tion, said his group of 48 stu­dents and par­ents were ex­cited to make the trip to Wash­ing­ton this year for the Earth Day cel­e­bra­tion.

“This is our sec­ond year at­tend­ing all to­gether,” said Mr. Car­man, adding that his niece, a sci­en­tist at NASA, en­cour­aged him to bring his stu­dents to the event last year. “We thought it’d be a great way to teach our kids the value of sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion.”

He said the pro­gram’s hands-on ex­per­i­ments have res­onated with his group of stu­dents, who are all boys be­tween 8 and 18 years old.

“They love sports, so the hands-on part of this is the most im­por­tant,” he said. “I’m try­ing to show them life’s not all about basketball.”

JULIA BROUIL­LETTE /

A NASA em­ployee gives a demon­stra­tion at the ‘Earth Day in the Na­tion’s Cap­i­tal’ event on Thurs­day. NASA hon­ors the day with an ac­tiv­i­ty­packed event meant to en­gage pub­lic in sci­ence.

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