A private 12-car train called the Science Express is touring Germany this summer to showcase state-of-the-art engineering and technology. The goal is to educate the public and encourage tomorrow's generation of scientists and engineers.

Back in the 1940s and 1950s, General Motors Corp. (GM, Detroit) sponsored a popular touring exhibition called the Parade of Progress. The circus-like attraction travelled around the United States and Canada in a fleet of streamlined trucks called Futurliners.

After parading into small towns and mid-sized cities, the vehicles would end up in a local park where a large tent would be erected. Displays of state-of-the-art engineering and technology would be open, free-of-charge to the public. Some of the “modern marvels” that thrilled the public back then were streamlined locomotives, jet engines and microwave ovens.

Today, another large manufacturer of appliances, locomotives and other products is borrowing a page from GM and showcasing its products and the technology behind them. However, instead of touring the backroads of America, this show is riding the rails of Germany.

Siemens AG (Munich, Germany) is one of the participants in a private 12-car train called the Science Express. Sponsored by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the train is one of the German government’s main activities to honor Science Year 2009 and commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the German Federal Republic.

In addition to Siemens, participants include BASF, Bayer, Bosch and Volkswagen, plus leading research organizations, such as the Fraunhofer Institute and the Max Planck Institute. The train is stopping in numerous German cities from April to November.

A similar science express train travelled through India in 2007 and 2008. During its seven-month tour, it attracted more than 2 million visitors.

The mobile exhibit hall showcases the latest German technology and offers visitors a “hands-on experience of the future.” The custom-designed interiors of the windowless passenger cars feature interactive exhibits on subjects such as manufacturing, energy efficiency, the environment, agriculture, medicine, intelligent buildings, transportation, security and urban development.

“The aim of the exhibition train is to acquaint visitors–and, above all, young people–with the challenges of our time and to encourage them to contemplate possible technological solutions,” says Hermann Requardt, chief technology officer at Siemens. “Now, more than ever before, knowledge and knowhow are decisive competitive advantages for companies, as well as countries. We can’t relax our efforts in research and development, since the innovations of today are the businesses of tomorrow.”

To spotlight future-oriented research topics and innovations, Siemens has contributed 13 exhibits on issues ranging from sustainability to medical technology.

The sixth car of the train examines innovative materials and the factory of the future. Displays explain how production and logistics can be linked worldwide in digital factories. The highlight is a fully functional, automated mini factory for producing small soccer balls. As balls move along the assembly line, colors can be controlled interactively.

I encourage Siemens (and other engineering-oriented manufacturers, such as Boeing, Honda, IBM and Toyota) to sponsor a Science Express in the United States. What the heck, maybe the “new GM” could even get in on the act and use it as a tool to rebuild its public image.