A science poster session for Congress

Last week, several hundred congressional staff and several Members of Congress mingled with over 30 scientists during an evening reception on Capitol Hill. While nibbling on finger food and sipping libations, policymakers and researchers chatted about the wide range of research and education projects supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The event was the 17th Annual Exhibition and Reception of the Coalition for National Science Funding, an alliance of over 120 organizations focused on the future of U.S. science, mathematics and engineering.

Sharon Collinge, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder—sponsored by the Ecological Society of America—showcased her work on restoring vernal pool plant communities on California’s Travis Air Force Base.

Collinge explained to interested visitors who stopped by her poster exhibit that her long-term ecological research demonstrates the difficulties in restoring a system, in this case imperiled plant communities.  She said that one problem is that invasive species can take root and may outcompete native vernal plant communities.  Collinge’s project is of interest to the Department of Defense (DOD) because DOD owns vast acreages of public land and is charged with managing its natural resources holistically through integrated natural resources management plans.

Collinge involves 6th graders in her research project, something that delighted Representative Fattah’s (D-PA) Chief of Staff, Maisha Leek.   She enthusiastically recalled a time in elementary school in Philadelphia in which she too was involved in a captivating hands-on outdoor project.  Many other attendees stopped to talk with Collinge about her work, including NSF staff, other exhibitors and staff from the offices of Collinge’s Colorado senators.

Collinge’s exhibit was one of 35 at the evening event and reflected the wide breadth of NSF support.  Among the many exhibit topics were:

–          Innovations for future computers

–          Weather research

–          Deepwater Horizon oil spill

–          Mathematics and the melting polar ice caps

–          Engaging the public in science, technology, engineering and mathematics

–          Conversion of biomass carbon to liquid fuel

–          Mentoring the next generation of behavioral neuroscientists

Collinge and other participants had preceded the exhibition with visits to their respective congressional delegations.  Visiting with the offices of her representative and senators, Collinge talked about the important role NSF plays in her state, where state support of research is fairly weak.   Colorado does very well competing for NSF grants, ranking 5th in the funds it receives from the agency.

Well past the scheduled end of the reception, exhibitors and attendees were still talking.  It was only when the tablecloths were removed from exhibit tables and the candles blown out that folks took their cue that it was time to say goodnight.

Photo credits: ESA file photo, Collinge field photo