HPS Volunteers Energized by 2018 USA Science & Engineering Festival

Cathy Ribaudo, HPS AIRRS Section Secretary/Treasurer

The 2018 USA Science & Engineering Festival has wound down, all the exhibitors have returned home, and all the radiation detectors have been unpacked and put away. Despite tired feet and hoarse voices, the participating Health Physics Society (HPS) volunteers remain energized by the sense of excitement and discovery that enveloped the health physics booths in Hall D during all three days of the biennial festival, which was held at the Washington, DC, Convention Center 6–8 April 2018. Those who volunteered for a shift on "Sneak-Peek Friday" saw a steady flow of visitors, as our booth location was ideally located near the Hall D entrance. On Saturday, the crowds were even greater, and Sunday was the busiest day yet! Festival organizers predicted over 350,000 folks would visit the exhibits, and it seemed each one of them must have passed our booths—whew!

Thanks to the HPS Science Support Committee, our booths had lots of props. There were radiation detectors clicking away, colorful Fiesta® ware to catch the eye, bright yellow anticontamination suits to try on for fun, and a cadre of friendly, knowledgeable health physicists of all backgrounds on duty to help explain the everyday world of radiation. Kids—and their parents—were excited to try out the radiation detectors on the variety of consumer products on display. Many of them, emboldened by their apparent expert surveying technique, tried their hand at finding the hidden sources in our "Find the Radiation" games. A few of the more curious folks spent some time studying how radiation levels changed with distance or with shielding and learned about how many banana-equivalents they were exposed to on a daily basis. They all came away with a better understanding of the practice of radiation safety, demonstrated first-hand by professional health physicists who did HPS proud! 

Health physicist members of the Academic, Industrial, and Research Radiation Section (AIRRS), the Baltimore-Washington Chapter, the Virginia Chapter, and CHP Consultants, along with University of Massachusetts (UMass)-Lowell health physics students, were continually on hand to interact with the booth visitors and answer their questions. Everyone was engaged and excited to share our profession, and the enthusiasm showed in the comments we received:

  • Steve Hand from the University of Maryland—"Great time! What a great reward to talk to so many young people (and their parents!) and work side by side with fellow professionals!" 
  • Matt Mille of the National Cancer Institute—"I enjoyed teaching the kids and parents about the different types of radiation and our booth was in a prime location. I did a quick demonstration using one of the survey meters and the various check sources. I encouraged a few kids to try on the hazmat suit—it never took much convincing. Fireball candy was a hit. Also had a nice chat with a woman who received accelerated partial breast irradiation via brachytherapy." 
  • Tom O'Brien from the National Institute of Standards and Technology—"It was cool to see some of the kids' reactions to some radiation facts. You could feel some of them thinking about it like maybe I should look into this more." 
  • Newbegin Devaraj of the National Institutes of Health (perhaps the best summary)—"It was a pleasure being able to make a positive influence in the public about radiation safety. As you have said, we will never know if one of them may be the health physicist of the future." 

We send a big shout-out to the UMass-Lowell students, who reflected Tinashe Gutu's sentiment: "Thank you for involving us; we had the opportunity to practice being public-facing health physicists. It was a wonderful experience meeting and talking with the volunteering CHPs." However, we members of the HPS have them to thank for doing "booth duty" throughout the three-day weekend, creating a win-win situation for both parties. So hats off to Tinashe, Cassandra Redmond, Ashlie Grasa, Tim Rogers, and Chris Sain—you were all a huge help! 

The entire festival was a winning experience for attendees and exhibitors alike. We are hopeful that the success of the 2018 festival will spark interest in repeating the HPS involvement at the 2020 festival. There is plenty of room for growth! Reserving more booths will allow us to spread out even more with multiple activities taking place, will accommodate more health physicist volunteers to share in the fun, and will influence an even greater number of future scientists. If you have ever considered participating in a STEM event like this one, don't pass up your chance to say "YES!" Talk to one of these fellow health physicist participants for more first-hand stories: Kaylie Hammersborg, Ed Tupin, Teresa Fisher, John Jacobus, Rob Gunter, Cathy Ribaudo, Atna Meshesha, Fred Mis, Tom Johnston, Carl Tarantino, James Mattern, Cari Borrás, Tanya Oxenberg, Eric Munger, and Show-Hwa Fong. Even better, tell them "thanks" for having made a positive impact on thousands of members of the public and the next generation of health physicists. 

At the end of the event, a young boy, around 10 years old, stopped by to say ours had been his favorite booth of the whole festival. Now THAT'S a testimonial! Great work, everyone.

Photos courtesy of Cathy Ribaudo

Carl Tarantino (middle) and Chris Sain (right) get hands-on

Ed Tupin oversees lab monitoring exercise

Look, Ma! Fiesta® ware is fascinating!

Teresa Fisher: Radiation detection isn't just for kids

U-Mass Lowell students