Ross Lieb-Lappen presents at USA Science and Engineering Festival

I recently traveled down to Washington D.C. with an inter-departmental team (engineering, earth science, physics, computer science, and chemistry) to partake in the USA Science and Engineering Festival. This festival is best described as one enormous science museum that is just in town for 1 weekend and completely free to the general public. With over 3,000 booths completely filling the DC Convention Center and covering 700,000 square ft, it would have taken a week to explore everything that was there. Exhibitors ranged from other (relatively small) University booths to well funded private corporations to large exhibits with hands-on simulations (think F-15 flight simulators) such as NASA and NOAA. Each day was filled with a wide variety of exciting talks with speakers such as Bill Nye. Needless to say, the festival was packed from morning until the doors closed each day.

We had a booth entitled "Polar Detectives" that covered both glaciers and ice cores. To understand ice and glacier movement, we used another non-Newtonian fluid called flubber (a mixture of glue, water, and borax) that will stretch under low strain rates but break at high strain rates. We let the flubber flow down polyethylene tubes with different surfaces (sand paper, aluminum foil, oiled surface, smooth surface) to mimic how glaciers speed is dependent upon bed surface and slope. This demo also illustrated how different parts of the glacier/flubber move at different speeds due to friction along valley walls and valley floor. The other half of the booth had an ice core model that demonstrated both the layering and air bubbles found in deep Antarctic and Greenland ice cores enabling climate scientists to reconstruct the past climate. Visitors were shocked to find that ice can be 2 miles thick, allowing us to look back in time 800,000 years. In addition, we had a segment from a Greenland core that was 250-years-old, greatly exciting kids who have always wanted to touch "really old" ice. Surprisingly, it seemed to surprise people when they found that touching ice is cold. However, the most fun part of our booth was dressing kids up in our extreme weather clothing (large parka, snowpants, boots, mittens) to demonstrate how much clothing we wear in the field.

One of the most exciting things to observe was how knowledgeable kids were in regards to ice cores, glaciers, and climate science. In second grade, I don't believe I even knew what a glacier was, yet many of these kids knew all about our changing climate, polar regions, and occasional facts about some of the science. Combined with their enthusiasm really encouraged me that the next generation wants to join in the campaign to take action about climate change. One highlight for me was being asked to be a guest scientist on a radio show a few days after the festival to talk about ice cores, climate science, my research, and what it is like to do research in the poles. Despite losing my voice, standing on my feet 3 days straight, and attempting to maintain sanity while repeating the same 30 second spiel nonstop for hours, the USA Science and Engineering Festival was a fabulous success.

Ross' radio interview is available at



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