NAS, NAE, and IOM present 'Decisiontown' at USA Science and Engineering Festival

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The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine are collaborating with the USA Science and Engineering Festival to present Decisiontown, a hands-on exhibit designed to show how citizens can use science, engineering, and medicine to make informed decisions in their daily lives. Decisiontown will be one of more than 3,000 exhibits at the festival, a free public event which takes place in Washington, D.C., on April 28 and 29.

“We are thrilled with the opportunity to once again interact with a very inquisitive public focused on exciting and informative science, engineering, and health activities,” said Barbara Kline Pope, executive director of communications for the National Academies and “mayor” of Decisiontown.

The Decisiontown exhibit is modeled on a cityscape and has a number of opportunities for children and parents alike to practice the real-world application of scientific principles. Town elements include a green grocer, where participants receive points for shopping for sustainable foods, a health center where visitors learn about sun damage and the benefits of sunscreen, a recycling center to create treasure from trash, and more. After completing activities at individual town locations, the exhibit culminates in a visit to town hall, where participants claim a prize for being effective science citizens and vote on science-themed referenda that affect the community of Decisiontown.

In addition, the exhibit will feature a community theater with 29 performances and presentations from a variety of scientists, engineers, and health professionals. The lineup includes non-profit organization GameDesk, which will use immersive game playing, including a wind tunnel, to show how fun science learning can be; hacker Pablos Holman, who will demonstrate from the stage how easily he can steal passwords and other “secure” information from audience members; and the Dahlberg family, who will discuss their unique perspective of science as a family business. In another stage presentation, a mock emergency situation will unfold as experts, such as WTOP traffic reporter Bob Marbourg, explain how they would communicate complex and potentially life-saving information in the midst of a crisis. The audience will play the role of the public and make decisions based upon that input.

Participants will also have the chance to visit the career center, where they will explore what scientists and engineers look like by choosing an outfit from a wide array of accessories and posing for photos. “We want to show children and their parents that being a scientist or an engineer or a health professional doesn’t necessarily fit a particular stereotype. We’re giving them lots of options and letting them express the role in their own very personal way,” explained Ann Merchant, deputy executive director of communications for the National Academies and the producer of the exhibit. “The costumes will help children discover the many opportunities that follow education in science, engineering, or medicine.”

The festival is free and open to the public 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 29. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center is located at 801 Mount Vernon Place. For more information about the festival, visit

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.