2020 USASEF Activities at the NIH Pavilion

Explore Current Scientific Themes with Hands-On Activities

In 2020, the NIH is hosting a large Pavilion where students, children and families, and people of all ages can engage in hands-on health and science activities led by staff from the NIH institutes, centers, and offices.

Explore one or more of the major scientific themes, which organize the NIH Pavilion this year. At each thematic center, visitors can try out a number of activities to learn more about the topic theme.


Explore the medical innovations created by advances in technology – from seeing through your skin to replacing damaged tissues and organs.


Catch the BEAT! Imaging the Human Heart (SEPA)

Scan the live beating heart of our patient with a high-tech ultrasound probe! Watch the heart valves open and close in real time as blood is pumped through his body. Take home a souvenir photo of your ultrasound scan of his heart. Use a touch screen computer to see 3D reconstructions of a patient's heart after bypass surgery or implantation of a pacemaker or stent. Play with an Augmented Reality (AR) app on an iPad to learn the inner workings of the heart. Check out our display to learn how high blood pressure can affect your health.

Patient Recruitment; Under Your Skin (CC)

  1. Clinical Study Registration
    We have clinical studies for healthy volunteers and for people with medical needs. Become a partner with us in the research and discovery of cures for tomorrow. Many studies also offer compensation. We’ll help you find the study that is right for you.
  2. The High-Tech Revolution
    A fun, educational, interactive, hands-on exhibit showcasing the innovative science and technology used at the Clinical Center to look inside the body and help perform medical diagnosis, surgery and other procedures.

Robotics to Improve Research (NCATS)

Staff from NCATS will demonstrate the precision and speed of robotics and discuss how it applies to scientific research and engineering. A mobile robot will be used to recognize locations, pick up and move objects and run multiple processes at the same time.

“Want To Be a Bioengineer?” Video Game Challenge! (NIBIB)

Play our “Want to be a Bioengineer?” iPad video game and rack up the points as you learn about Rehabilitation Engineering, Tissue Engineering, and Biomedical Imaging. Then try your luck at the new “Lightning Round,” a race with the clock to score those final points by answering rapid fire questions about the hottest topics on biomedical engineering and human health. Finally, check out and download our new apps, “Surgery of the Future,” and “Understanding Medical Scans,” and talk to our experts in biomedical engineering as well as our app developers.

Zebrafish on the Move: Tour the Tank (NICHD)

‘Tour the Tank’ gives kids a close-up view of the small fish that have a big impact on our understanding of human disease and development. Peeking into a fluorescent microscope, kids see a zebrafish brain at work, a beating heart, lungs pumping, even blood cells traveling through a vessel. Scientists are on hand to explain how zebrafish help advance our knowledge. A handful of kids can walk through the dark-room exhibit at a time, checking out the fish tank, while kids and parents outside the exhibit can ask questions of scientists and watch a video featuring short clips of zebrafish discoveries.

Data Science

Learn how NIH researchers are using computers to analyze and protect an ever-expanding amount of complex “big data” to understand health and disease.


Cyber Escape Room; Find the Phish; Wearing Viruses and Worms Through Gadgets (CIT)

  1. Cyber Escape Room
    See if you can answer all the questions correctly to get out on time!
  2. Find the Phish
    Look through an e-mail and see if you can spot the Phishing signs.
  3. Wearing Viruses and Worms Through Gadgets
    Find out how viruses and worms not only affect your health, but also your privacy, and your safety by learning about Healthcare Cybersecurity.

Germ Hunters: Solve a Mystery with DNA Data; Learn to Code with a Raspberry Pi (ODSS)

  1. Germ Hunters: Solve a Mystery with DNA Data
    What bacteria and viruses are in our mystery sample? Find out for yourself by sequencing the DNA in the sample, and watch the data grow as we solve the mystery!
  2. Learn to Code with a Raspberry Pi
    Raspberry pie is certainly tasty, but a Raspberry Pi is a mini-computer that visitors can use to learn basic computer programming. After completing this activity, attendees may discover they have a sweet tooth for coding!

Graphic Medicine: Ill-Conceived and Well Drawn!; Predict Your Pulse (NLM)

  1. Graphic Medicine: Ill-conceived and Well Drawn!
    Graphic medicine is the use of comics to tell personal stories of illness and health. The exhibition from the National Library of Medicine’s History of Medicine Division features items from our growing collection of comics depicting people’s personal experiences with a range of health issues, including breast cancer, deafness, mental illness. Our staff has also selected some of our very favorite images for you to color—or if you’re feeling creative, we welcome you to create your very own comics!
  2. Predict Your Pulse
    As a hub of data science at NIH, the National Library of Medicine invites you to become a data scientist for the day! Join us in conducting an experiment to see if you can predict your pulse better than a computer model after enjoying some light exercise and brain games! We’ll explore how machine learning and artificial intelligence are advancing human health—and what technology can and can’t tell us today.

Lego® Laboratory! Identify a Viral Contagion (SEPA)

Can you help determine which exotic virus is infecting a human population? Identify it by studying a region of its DNA! Just as a unique pattern of bars in a universal product code (UPC) identifies each item for sale in a store, a DNA barcode is a DNA sequence that can help identify each living thing. Learn about the spread of viral disease, then build and sequence a LEGO® “DNA barcode” so that you can use a scientific program to identify which strains are infecting the population and how the virus is mutating!

Technology Can Help People (NINR)

  1. A Device to Help Wounds Heal Faster
    Through a hands-on activity, we demonstrate the piezoelectric effect: the generation of an electric charge in response to applied pressure. Learn how this effect is used to help wounds heal faster.
  2. Finding Ways for Speechless Patients to Communicate
    Discover how a smart switch allows patients who can only produce a small gesture to summon help and control a speech generating device to communicate. Learn how a device can support communication between patients and their health care providers, including for patients who cannot speak English.
  3. How Technology Can Help Providers and Patients Manage Illnesses
    Learn how smartphones, wearables and connected devices help doctors, nurses, and patients manage serious illnesses at home and in the hospital. 

The NIH Scientist Launch Game® App (CSR)

Experience the excitement of becoming a scientist, getting a research grant and advancing science and health. Along the way, you will learn – 

  • More about the fight against, cancer, heart disease and infectious diseases
  • How to design better research projects
  • How researchers become successful
  • How the National Institutes of Health helps advance science and health. (See Science Education: Kids Game App, Books, and Videos.)

Diet, Disparities and Lifestyles

Discover how making positive life choices can lead to better health. Learn how NIH is working to ensure all populations have an equal opportunity to live long, healthy, and productive lives.


Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know (ODS)

Many people in the United States take one or more dietary supplements. They come in many forms including tablets, capsules, gummies, and powders, as well as drinks and energy bars. Learn about the science of supplement ingredients, including vitamins D and E; minerals such as calcium and iron; herbs such as echinacea and garlic; and other products like probiotics and fish oils.

Discover the Bitter Truth About Yourself (SEPA)

Test your taste receptors and measure your UV-fighting skin melanin. DNA influences health behaviors through proteins that shape the ways our bodies function.  Explore the genetics of bitter taste percepion and taste preferences. Measure your skin melanin and estimate your sensitivity to the sun's rays with a cool, non-invasive testing devices. Meet the next generation of scientists who are conducting this research.

Healthy Aging: You Can Make a Difference! (NIA)

Did you know your nose and handshake can tell a lot about your health as you grow older? Visitors will take tests of grip strength, ability to detect smells, and reaction time, just like the tests being given to participants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA). Learn how scientists at the National Institute on Aging measure changes in these abilities over time and how such tests provide clues to living a long, healthy life. Scientists will share what they have learned so far.

Health Equity and Me: We Are More the Same Than Different (NIMHD, SGMRO, EDI)

Teaching health equity starts by simply raising awareness to differences and reminding us that we are all the same. Learn about heath equity, bedazzle a message about what diversity means to you, and create a DNA sequence bracelet. You will see how similar we really are! This activity will help participants to envision a world where all populations have an equal opportunity to live long, healthy, and productive lives. The booth is sponsored by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office, and the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

Investigating a Public Health Puzzle: Vaping and Your Health (ECHO, ODP, NHLBINIDATRSP)

Curious about the health effects of vaping? NIH scientists are too! Join us for a behind-the-scenes look at the tools that teams of researchers use to find out more about vaping, addiction, and their impacts on health. Talk to scientists and test your knowledge for a chance to win prizes!

Lung Capacity Measurement: How Much "Hot Air" Do You Have? (NIEHS)

Come see how much air you can exhale! Each person will have the opportunity to measure their forced vital capacity (FVC) of their lungs. FVC is the amount of air that can be forcibly exhaled from the lungs after taking the deepest breath possible. Huff and puff and show us what you can do. Chart the results and learn how air pollution, vaping, and asthma affects lung health. The U.S. Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General Prevention through Active Community Engagement (known as "PACE") will share information on vaping. You will have the edge when you stop next door to the "Vaping and Your Health" table and win prizes.

Yoga Demonstrations (NCCIH)

As part of the NIH theme focusing on Diet, Disparities, and Lifestyles, NCCIH will have certified yoga instructor(s) available at the NCCIH booth at designated times to offer impromptu demos of yoga poses with children and people of all ages. In addition, NCCIH will offer evidence-based information resources on complementary and integrative health approaches and staff will answer questions about NCCIH research efforts.

Infectious Diseases

Tackle the world of microorganisms and learn about the harm – and good – done by bacteria, fungi, parasites, and/or viruses.


Bacteria Brushing Biosensors (NIDCR)

We can't see them, but bacteria are all around us, on us, and in us, including in our mouths. Scientists can use special tools called biosensors to detect them. Biosensors can also be used for evaluating oral and overall health. Booth visitors will participate in an interactive, hands-on experiment to measure bacterial contamination on model teeth using a biosensor. Overall, attendees will learn how prevalent bacteria are in our world and how removing bacteria from teeth with regular tooth brushing can keep our mouths healthy.

Flu Viral Assembly Games (NIAID)

  1. Cold vs. Flu Symptom Board
    Do you know the difference between cold and flu symptoms? Check your knowledge with our symptom board. Match each symptom to the cold or flu column and see how many you can get right!
  2. Matching Game
    Test your flu and immune system knowledge with our matching card game!
  3. Puzzles
    Enjoy the challenge of assembling our flu related puzzles, varying in difficulty level and cool imagery.
  4. Self-Assembling Viral Shakers
    Have you ever wondered how viruses assemble? Come shake our self-assembling viral shakers to see how the viruses assemble and how your immune system uses the fever response to fight back!
  5. True/ False Beanbag Toss
    How much do you know about the flu? Volunteers will ask participants to answer true/false questions about flu and throw a beanbag into the true or false box. There are 3 categories to work through (beginner, intermediate, advanced).    

Ooey, Gooey, Gross: Acne, Organs and Immunity (SEPA)

Sometimes life is gross, but being gross can also be fun. Pop over to see how your body's immune system deals with pimples. Challenge your friends to see who can get the highest score on our virtual acne fighting video game. Get hands-on and squish some organs while you learn about different organs and their jobs inside the body. Take a peek at how the body's immune system can affect organ translplants by creating and exploring your very own story.

The Germ Stops Here (ORS)

To prevent Mr. and Mrs. Germ from within a lab escape to outside of the lab our engineers designed a mock up lab demonstrating directional airflow. You are welcome to enter the lab to experience directional airflow yourself, just like how NIH researchers experience labs that research anthrax, tuberculosis and other nasty viruses. Once inside the lab, you will look into a microscope and identify the germ. But before you can enter our lab, you will be required to put on the proper personal protective equipment needed so that you can be protected, just like our NIH researchers.

Zombie Apocalypse and Global Health Quiz (FIC)

In this game, Zombie Fever—a new infectious disease—is taking over the planet! Learn how Zombie Fever spreads through a population…you may get infected and become a zombie yourself! Come find out who gets infected, what you can do to prevent getting infected, and what happens after you get infected. Visit our booth to play a global health quiz game and learn more about how the Fogarty International Center at NIH helps fight diseases and improve health in countries all around the globe and how global health research helps improve our health in the U.S. as well.

Molecules and Cells

Dive deep into the world of biology to explore the wonder of cells, tissues, organs, proteins, and genes. Learn how scientists study these living systems to find new ways to improve our health.


DNA Activities (NHGRI)

  1. CRISPR Corner
    What is CRISPR and why is it one of the most innovative gene editing tools available to scientists? What are some potential ways CRISPR can be used? Let’s discuss! Stop by and share your thoughts with us on the ethical implications of this technology.
  2. Genetic Trait Tree
    Do you have a hitchhiker’s thumb? Or do you have dimples? Have you ever wondered why? Come explore the visual wonders of DNA with NHGRI.
  3. Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code Pop-Up Exhibit
    We bring the Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code Exhibit to you. Walk through the pop-up poster area at your own pace to learn about what a genome is, what it reveals about health and the risk of disease, and how genome sequencing is changing the way we look at ancestry and ourselves. It’s not all about us though, you can also explore how genomics enhances our understanding of the natural world. Have questions? Stop by the NHGRI booth.
  4. Get to Know DNA! (Friday Only)
    Have you ever wondered what DNA looks like? We will provide you with an opportunity to participate in our mini-lab and see first-hand what DNA isolated from strawberries looks like using household materials.

Engineering a Cure for Cancer (NCI)

Doctors treat cancer using medicine, radiation, and surgery. Scientists and engineers help medical doctors improve cancer treatment by designing tools, medicines, and machines that selectively remove cancer cells while not harming healthy cells. One of the challenges of treating cancer is that cancer cells multiply rapidly creating large tumors and spreading throughout the body. At the booth, visitors will learn about cancer cell growth, and research to aid in the removal of cancer cells during surgery and participate in a hands-on activity to engineer a tool that can quickly remove cancer cells while leaving as many healthy cells as possible. Visitors will test their tools in a race against the clock as the tumor cells continue to grow.

Making with Microbes (SEPA)

Collaborate with tiny, living organisms to design, mix and grow a unique biomaterial. A community of yeast and bacteria will do the hard work of manufacturing biomaterial, but you get to decide on the final look and feel by choosing what ingredients to feed your microbes. Take your liquid culutre home in a tightly sealed container decorated with playful accessories to document what is inside. Over the next week, watch your microbes grow a custom biomaterial based on your personal design. This biomaterial is easy and inexpensive to grow, so you can keep experimenting at home!

Say It with Proteins (NIGMS)

Proteins are molecules that play important roles in virtually every activity in the body. They form hair and fingernails, carry oxygen in the blood, enable muscle movement and much more. This activity will explore the importance of proteins, share information on the NIGMS-funded Protein Data Bank, and provide customized, colorful visuals of names using the 3-D protein alphabet.

Seeing is Believing: Muscle Tissue Development and Wound Healing (NIAMS)

Strong bones and muscle are essential for the human body to be functional, mobile and flexible. Having strong healthy skin is equally important to serve as a strong protective barrier from harmful pathogens (bacteria and viruses). Daily our bodies are growing and/or repairing our bones, muscles and skin. Look through our microscope and our Ipad (time-lapsed video) to see muscle and skin cells change before your eyes! You will witness the process of muscle development and also wound healing.


The Brain

Take a journey into one of the most complex and fascinating organs in the human body that baffles even the most renowned scientists - the brain.


Brain Demonstrations (NIMH)

  1. Brain Signals
    The demonstration involves the use of brain signals (recorded from a wireless electroencephalography headset) to control the movement of magnetic fluid. The magnetic fluid will be sitting in a countertop container. There will be electromagnets counted under the container to generate the magnetic fields. The electromagnets are in turn controlled by the recorded brain signals.
  2. Phantom Limb
    Participants will be amazed at how their brain can be fooled through this two-part demonstration that explores the phenomenon of phantom limb pain. In this hands-on activity, NIH scientists will trick participants into thinking that a rubber hand is actually part of their own body while educating them on phantom limbs. The second part of the activity will demonstrate how a similar brain and cognitive manipulation ("mirror therapy") can reduce phantom limb pain in amputees.

Communication Exploration (NIDCD)

  1. Communication Exploration
    Do you know how sound travels from your ear to your brain, how loud sounds can damage your hearing, and how to protect your ears? What does sound look like when you speak or sing? Why is it hard to stand on one foot with your eyes closed? Are you among the 25 percent of people who cannot taste a class of bitter substances? Answer these questions and more with hands-on activities to learn about voice, speech, language, and how your senses of hearing and balance and of taste and smell work together. You'll also learn how hearing aids work and test how loud the convention hall really is!

Curiosity Box; The BRAIN Initiative; The Lobe-oratorium® (NINDS)

  1. Curiosity Box: Exploring Our Senses Through Tactile Experiences
    The curiosity box will allow for a tactile experience where kids feel objects hidden within pockets a black box to identify the object based on different shapes, textures, and temperatures. They will consider how our 5 senses help use navigate the world around us and how our brain uses information (like touch) to solve problems. For example, to represent hot, cold, rough, smooth, items such as hot hands, activated ice pack, sandpaper, or a smooth stone will be hidden in the boxes for kids to touch.
  2. The BRAIN Initiative at NIH: From Cells to Circuits, Toward Cures
    This interactive display will take users on a journey into the brain, where they learn about the NIH Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative – an exciting effort aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the brain. Users will be able to select different parts of the brain to reveal different topics scientists are exploring. As they engage in this digital, interactive display, they will dive deep into the brain – from the surface down to the level of the cell - learning about new discoveries and novel technologies that provide unprecedented opportunities for exploring exactly how the brain enables the human body to record, process, utilize, store, and retrieve vast quantities of information, all at the speed of thought.
  3. The Lobe-oratorium®
    How are you reading this? Your brain’s occipital lobe processes the things you see, while your frontal lobe helps you understand the information. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) team put their brains together to create an exhibit called the Lobe-oratorium®, which educates people of all ages about the functions of the four main lobes of the brain in a fun and interactive way. The panel exhibit features iPads with a Q&A-style quiz where participants can test their knowledge about the brain lobes and their functions, as well as a colorful, engaging backdrop to draw in conference attendees.

Drink Equivalency Demonstration; Test Your Aim (NIAAA)

  1. Drink Equivalency Demonstration
    Many people are surprised to learn what counts as a drink. In the United States, one "standard" drink (or one alcoholic drink equivalent) contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol. However, the amount of liquid in a glass, can, or bottle does not necessarily match up to how much alcohol is actually in a drink, because different types of beer, wine, or malt liquor can have very different amounts of alcohol content. To promote understanding of what constitutes a “standard drink” of alcohol, NIAAA will present a drink equivalency demonstration using water and common drinking glasses and containers.
  2. Test Your Aim
    To promote youth understanding of the effects of alcohol on coordination and the dangers associated with these effects (e.g., accidents while driving under the influence, etc.) NIAAA will present Test Your Aim. In this activity, young people will have the chance to play a ball-toss game while wearing “fatal vision goggles.” These glasses distort the vision of the wearer to mimic the effects of alcohol on motor skills. This helps drive home the message that, even though adolescents may not feel alcohol’s effects as immediately as older individuals do, they ARE being affected and must be alert to the dangers of alcohol for their age group.

Drugs and Your Brain (NIDA)

  1. Drugs and Your Brain
    Join us for hands-on demonstrations that will reveal the impact of drugs on the brain!  Learn how the structure of a drug affects how it interacts with the biology of your brain and how substance use can lead to addiction.  Test your understanding of how the brain controls the body and learn how society can respond to problems that arise from drug use.  Come test your knowledge by playing fun games and taking challenging quizzes!

Harnessing the Power of the Mind (OBSSR)

  1. Harnessing the Power of the Mind
    Train your brain to control automatic body functions! You may think that you have no conscious control over some of the things your body does, like your heart beating and how you breathe, but that may not be entirely true. These hands-on activities will show you that some parts of your health may, in fact, be mind over matter.

Making BrainWaves: Explore your Brain Activity (SEPA)

  1. Making BrainWaves: Explore your Brain Activity
    Measure your brainwaves with a portable EEG (electroencephalogram). You will be able to see your brain activity on a computer screen and explore how to control objects with the power of your mind!  Take a virtual tour through the human brain and investigate how the brain interacts with our senses.

“See What I See” (NEI)

  1. “See What I See” Virtual Reality Experience About Vision Health
    Millions of people are affected by eye diseases. But describing vision loss is difficult. NEI’s virtual reality (VR) experience enables you to explore life with vision loss from common eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. This is a fully-immersive experience with Oculus Quest goggles.


Other Activities and Exhibits

Animal Research: Finding Cures, Saving Lives! (OLAW)

Take a sneak peek into how animals in biomedical research are cared for in their quest to save millions of precious lives. Meet and engage with the NIH Mouse and experience firsthand the life of a laboratory mouse. We welcome you to take a journey with us to explore how animals in biomedical research have contributed to medical breakthroughs that helped you and your loved ones. Let us show you how much NIH cares!

This page last reviewed on January 6, 2020