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WSU brings plant science innovation to festival on National Mall

WASHINGTON – An elementary school student in a white lab coat pulled the clumpy white string from a test tube with a Q-tip and delivered her assessment:

“It’s like snot,” she said to friends at the Washington State University booth on the National Mall in front of the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural History Museum.

The students were actually learning how to extract DNA from strawberries by mixing the mashed berries with dish soap and alcohol. Others were learning about the power of the sun by playing with a solar pump outside the booth.

“We want to help get young people excited about science, help them get their hands dirty and actually do something in science,” said Kathy Barnard, from WSU’s College of Agriculture.

WSU is one of some 20 land-grant universities participating at the 46th Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the largest annual cultural event on the mall.

Barnard and two WSU colleagues are in the nation’s capital this week to share plant science knowledge with the public. The university’s exhibit is part of the “sustainable solutions” section and offers suggestions on how to feed the world and power the planet based on plant science.

That’s “one of WSU’s biggest strengths,” Barnard said after the booth opened Wednesday. There are also display boards focusing on the science behind developing disease-resistant crops that need little or no pesticides, fertilizer or water.

Visitors also can learn how things like camelina, woody biomass and algae are converted into fuel.

“Through the exhibits, we highlight the level of science going on at Washington State University,” Barnard said.

The festival celebrates the 150th anniversary of the nation’s decision to grant land to create universities, as well as the creation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of the USDA, said the festival reminds people of the importance of partnership between the universities and the agency.

“The innovations coming out of the collaborations will advance challenges like energy, climate change, food security and other practicing issues of our day,” she said.

The festival runs through July 8 with a brief break before Independence Day.

Chenfei Zhang is a student in the University of Missouri’s Washington Reporting Program who serves as a correspondent for The Spokesman-Review.

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