CReSIS Contributes to USA Science and Engineering Expo


By Nick Mott
Fall 2010


Remote sensing isn’t exactly at the top of most children’s minds.

That all changed when CReSIS representatives sat alongside about 600 scientific groups and organizations and a quarter million visitors at the USA Science and Engineering Expo in Washington, D.C. on October 23 and 24.

“I’ve never seen so many people ever at a conference. It was enormous. People were just everywhere, and talking about it to their kids, and asking good questions,” said Cheri Hamilton, CReSIS K-12 Education Outreach Coordinator.

The Expo, held on the National Mall, was the final stage of a larger event: the two-week-long USA Science and Engineering Festival. It was designed to pique the interest of the nation’s youth in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. CReSIS was selected as one of 15 NSF organizations to attend the event and was the only representative from the state of Kansas.

In the CReSIS booth, students could fly a model of the Meridian aircraft over a block of simulated ice and view the radar results on a computer screen. A simulation of sea level rise developed by Haskell Indian Nations University and KU showed the landward migration of coastlines, and a flight simulator gave students the opportunity to feel like pilots. The activities in the booth were a great success and the kids had a lot of fun. Hamilton added that many of the younger kids liked crashing the plane.

According to Administrative Manager Jennifer Laverentz, the CReSIS booth offered something for everybody. “They were really excited. The younger kids liked the pilot trainer a lot better, but the older kids were really interested in the radar and how it works,” she said.

Hamilton said that the adults learned something, too. “The adults were really interested in the radar,” she said. “I think a lot of adults don’t have any idea what radar does or that it comes off of a plane or a sled.”

The Expo was the first time CReSIS offered a hands-on demonstration of radar to children. As the model Meridian crossed over the faux-ice block, the layers showed up onscreen, and when it was over the street, the computer recorded only a single, flat line. “You actually had proof that it was doing something,” Hamilton said. Radar is a difficult concept to teach children because it is invisible. By incorporating the computer screen and ice block simulation, CReSIS’ display performed a feat of magic: it made the invisible visible.

CReSIS faculty and staff members Hamilton, Laverentz, Carl Leuschen, and Stacey Freeman attended the event along with engineering graduate students Austin Arnett, Bill Donovan, Emily Arnold, and Aqsa Patel and the School of Engineering Public Relations Director Jill Hummels. Hamilton and Laverentz said that the Expo was a great opportunity for the graduate students to interact with kids and see themselves as role models, an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have had. “We had girl scout troops come through who were really excited to see females who were graduate students in science,” Laverentz said.

Both Hamilton and Laverentz thought that the conference was a success. In just two days, between 3 and 5 thousand students passed through the CReSIS booth. Hamilton said that the streets were so packed she could barely see into the other booths. She hopes that the conference will continue in future years and that she can continue to make the invisible visible with radar demonstrations at upcoming educational events.