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Looking inside the growth of a multibillion-dollar seafood industry. Examining solutions to limit damage from a destructive tsunami. And giving schoolchildren experience with robotics.

Those are the themes of the exhibits Oregon State University is hosting in this year’s National Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution.

The festival, held at the Great Mall between the Smithsonian museums, offers a different theme every year.

This year, the celebration, which runs through Sunday, marks the 150th anniversary of the 1862 Morrill Act, which made federal land grants available to states for the development of institutions of higher education.

“The Morrill Act was established in 1862, and it really created public universities throughout the nation,” said Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president of university relations and marketing. “The purpose of it was to bring higher education closer to the people.”

At the time, Clark said, universities were mainly for the wealthy, and the establishment of public universities brought higher education to local communities.

As Oregon’s land-grant university, OSU was invited to participate in this year’s festival, along with 28 other land-grant universities from around the country.

The festival officially began on June 27. After a short break, it kicks off again today.

The first of the three OSU exhibits features surimi seafood and the role OSU played in making it a multibillion-dollar industry.

“We’re introducing and telling people about surimi,” Clark said, and how OSU contributed to the industry’s growth.

The second exhibit educates visitors about tsunami preparedness. Alicia Lyman-Holt, education and outreach coordinator of the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory at OSU, said the festival has been a positive experience, aside from the hot weather.

“We have a mini tsunami flume; it is a version of the one housed at our university,” Lyman-Holt said. “We’ve been talking about how OSU is leading the civil engineering aspect of tsunami preparedness.”

She said the exhibit has seen between 800 and 1,000 people a day.

“We’re very busy, we’re doing a lot of interactions with kids,” she said.

Festival participants are given the opportunity to build Lego structures, put them in a tank and then see how they fare in the mini-tsunamis generated in the flume.

The third exhibit displays robotics through 4-H Tech Wizards, an after-school mentoring program offered through OSU’s Extension Service.

The Tech Wizards exhibit, Clark said, lets young people work on computers at the Smithsonian, creating designs for different electronics and then working with materials to create solar-powered equipment.

“It’s really amazing what’s occurring. Tech Wizards is showing in D.C. how young people are able to work with their minds and hands to create electronic devices,” he said.

The Smithsonian gave OSU a different opportunity last Thursday, when it held a breakfast in its Castle, the ornate building that houses the institution’s administrative offices. Members of Oregon’s congressional delegation attended, including Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Peter DeFazio, Clark said.

“Our goal there was to inform both members of Congress and their staffs about what OSU is doing in Oregon and across the world,” he said. “It was an opportunity to illustrate to them what we’re doing.”


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