Approximately 350,000 people, mainly primary and secondary students, attended the largest science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) event in the United States April 7-8 in Washington, D.C. One of the biggest draws at the USA Science & Engineering Festival (USASEF) was a computerized game based on an actual industrial automation and control system. It was located at an exhibit sponsored by the International Society of Automation (ISA) and its umbrella organization, the Automation Federation (AF).

The ISA/AF game was powered by a programmable logic controller (PLC). Practicing automation professionals operated the system, which was built using salvaged parts from plant equipment and incorporated about 2,500’ of electric wire. Requiring more than 400 hours to design, program and test, the PLC demonstrated: essential control panel design concepts; how control circuits are wired for lights, switches and buttons; how the switches use binary math for game selection; how the programs are structured; and how mathematics plays a key role in computer game programming.

USASEF included more than 3,000 hands-on exhibits, games and experiments focused on inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers. Attendees were able to test flight simulators, interact with robots, look at an Air Force F-16 fighter jet, experience life on Mars, explore how the brain works, and discover a wide range of principles and concepts fundamental to modern science and engineering.