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The VisLab in Beijing

September 25, 2013

In my last and first post I went over a little bit about myself and the Visual Investigate Lab (aka “VisLab”), but I also mentioned that I was en route to China. I’m back now from a week in Beijing and this is what happened.

Two or three months ago I had a chance encounter with a Chinese delegation from the Beijing Association of Science and Technology (BAST). Through an interpreter I gave the group a tour of the lab and shared with them some of my philosophy in regards to science education technology. After I finished and answered some questions the vice-chairman asked me if I would be willing to go to Beijing to recreate the lab at a large science festival, called the Beijing Science Festival located in the shadow of the Bird’s Nest Stadium. A good deal of paper work later and I had tickets to Beijing for a week-long stay to demonstrate our efforts to the public and hopefully inspire some young minds.

Beijing Science Festival 2013 Stage

About thirteen hours after leaving the ground in Newark, I stepped out of the plane and breathed in the Beijing air. I found my way through immigration, collected my checked bags, and headed to the exit for the terminal where throngs of chauffeurs held signs looking for their passengers. I scanned the crowd slowly and finally, to my relief, saw my name being held by college student. I smiled while introducing myself and she took me to a taxi.  I was taken straight to the festival grounds on the Olympic Green, which is like a large park filled with street vendors, sculptures, and lots of open space for playing and kite flying. The festival area was filled with many tents, some of which were setup by groups from other countries as well. I was taken to my tent, and immediately began to unpack and setup.  It took the rest of the day and all of the next day to put everything together. I assembled three different stations: a robot station featuring two robots that I made along with some solar devices, an augmented reality station featuring my latest AR program (which uses near real-time NASA data) and an electronics work space, where people could build their own electronic devices using batteries, lights, wires and motors.

The VisLab at the Beijing Science Festival 2013The VisLab at the Beijing Science Festival 2013

The VisLab at the Beijing Science Festival 2013The VisLab at the Beijing Science Festival 2013

The following three days that my tent was open were extremely gratifying and a lot of fun. I estimated that around five hundred people visited each day, mostly families or school groups. Everyone that came in was interested in the technologies that were on display. I spent the entire time demonstrating the robots, showing how they worked, and letting kids interact with them while my volunteers showed everyone how to begin creating electronic devices in the work space.

The VisLab at the Beijing Science Festival 2013The VisLab at the Beijing Science Festival 2013

The VisLab at the Beijing Science Festival 2013The VisLab at the Beijing Science Festival 2013

I was constantly surrounded by children and adults eagerly engaging and playing with the robots and I talked to as many people as I could about the state of science and technology education in China.  As a result I came away with the impression that there is a real interest in Beijing (and I will presumptuously assume other places in China as well) in science in general and in hobby electronics in particular. However access to parts and learning resources is not widely known, possibly because they are limited to begin with (I did learn about and was able to advertise the Chinese website TAOBAO as a good source for electronics and Arduino parts.) This is of course true in the US as well, but that is quickly starting to change for two reasons: (1) electronic components are extremely inexpensive because they are built in bulk for all of the devices that we use on a daily basis and (2) there are many great websites that not only sell said components, but also teach you how to use them (such as Adafruit and Sparkfun). These are points that I try to get across to everyone that seems evenly slightly interested in learning or teaching electronics: all you need is space, a little bit of money, and a little bit of time to learn. You do not have to be an expert in order to show others how to create something, everyone can learn together (“I don’t know, let’s try it and find out” is a fine answer). The most important thing is to not be intimidated, if not for your own sake then at least for the sake of children, who automatically assume that they cannot do something that is too difficult for adults to do.

The VisLab at the Beijing Science Festival 2013The VisLab at the Beijing Science Festival 2013

The VisLab at the Beijing Science Festival 2013The VisLab at the Beijing Science Festival 2013

To sum up, the festival was a success, the public and I had a great time, the staff and volunteers that arranged the festival were all extremely kind and accommodating, and I look forward to many more opportunities to take the VisLab on the road in the future.

Thank you BAST and thank you Beijing.

Coordinator of the Visual World Investigate Lab
NC Museum of Natural Sciences | Nature Research Center

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 26, 2013 3:43 am

    Reblogged this on MetroRec.

  2. Mom permalink
    September 26, 2013 7:32 pm

    Love this.

  3. Apparmo permalink
    September 27, 2013 2:02 am

    Reblogged this on Apparmo.

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