Bay Area Science Festival

BMSIS Young Scientist Nick Thomas volunteered at the Bay Area Science Festival for a space research outreach event.

Nick’s engagement was part of his Communications requirements for the BMSIS Young Scientist Program. BMSIS is continuously committed to engaging the public in the wonders of Space Exploration and the Earth System. Our Young Scientist Program continues this tradition by engaging local communities around the world.

Read Nick’s impressions below:

During my time at BMSIS I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Bay Area Science Festival. This is an event designed to engage young people with scientific organizations throughout the Bay Area with the goal of promoting interest and excitement for the STEM fields in our youth. The event this year was expanded to incorporate both design and arts groups which made for a very eclectic showing—booths spanned from hard science group like NASA to interactive electronic instrument stations that displayed colorful light shows to accompany the music being produced. I have done outreach events in the past, but never on this large of a scale. The event was held in a warehouse on one of San Francisco’s harbor piers, and was absolutely packed with excited youngsters.

During my shifts we saw a constant flow of a wide range of students from pre-K up until middle school. What stood out to me was the consistent level of excitement—not only from the young people but also their parents and chaperones. I had the opportunity to field as many questions from the adults as I did the children. My role was represent the organismal science happening on the international space station (ISS) and live demo some of tools that are currently used on ISS to do that work. This included some petri dishes of Arabidopsis as well as a replica of the fruit fly capsules that are currently in use, which included live flies that could be observed under the microscope. For younger students most of my interactions were focused on what they were learning in school, and how that applies to what we do at NASA and talking about their aspirations. Older students had more specific questions about the research, and I had the opportunity to explain some more in depth concepts like how to tell the differences in the sex of the flies, why we use Arabidopsis for much of our research etc. This outreach event also allowed me the opportunity to talk about my own research project to an audience with variable scientific fluency since many were curious about what I was doing as a young person at NASA. I freely gave out my contact information and encouraged students to think about hypotheses and research projects they would want to send to ISS. There are many opportunities to get involved in projects going to space, and the kids were excited about that prospect. I left that day feeling very inspired by the excitement demonstrated by the young people I interacted with. Tailoring my own explanations to diverse audiences was a challenge, but was extremely rewarding. Many of the kids followed up with me to ask more questions, which I was excited to see.

Volunteering at this event was a true highlight of my year and I’m so looking forward to interacting with more budding scientist and encouraging interest in the STEM or STEAMD (Arts and Design inclusive) fields in the future.