Convocation Center to host Oct. 22 STEMfest

Mega-event features hands-on activities, aims to spark young people’s interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math

STEMfestAfter a hugely successful event last year, NIU now is gearing up to hold its second annual Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Festival, better known as STEMfest, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, at the NIU Convocation Center.

The festival promises to be even bigger and better than ever with backing from lead sponsor Energy Systems Group and contributing sponsors Kishwaukee Community Hospital and Abbott Laboratories.

Related: Energy Systems Group sponsors STEMfest 2011

The event ties in Halloween themes and uses more than 100 hands-on demonstrations to teach kindergarten through 12th-grade students and their families about the wonders of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Event organizers expect the activities and mind-blowing exhibits to attract as many as 5,000 people.

Among this year’s displays and attractions:

NIU’s mini-baja vehicle

NIU’s mini-baja vehicle

  • Prototype Microsoft Kinect full-body video games.
  • The always popular darkened Haunted Physics Lab, made spooky by a fog machine, glowing liquids, colored shadows and lightning bolts in a plasma globe.
  • A 4-foot long, working model of NIU’s robotic submarine to be used in explorations beneath the Antarctic ice shelf.
  • The ultra-high-mileage vehicle(1,265 mpg!), mini Baja and other award-winning vehicles designed by NIU students.
  • A new 4 ½-foot-tall, sparking Jacob’s ladder, illustrating the physics of an electrical discharge.
  • QuarkNet’s cosmic ray detectors.
  • An Energy Systems Group display demonstrating the science, tech, engineering and math behind energy-efficiency projects at NIU.
  • Hands-on laser displays, including a laser maze, a “perpetual fountain” and a hologram.
  • Equipment to test the safe-listening levels of your iPods and MP3 players.
  • A technology-loaded Kishwaukee Community Hospital ambulance.
  • A “tech playground” that enables visitors to make their own music, animations, videos and more.
  • A demonstration of “patient simulation mannequins,” which are capable of reproducing life-like blood pressures, pulses and lung sounds and are used at NIU to train nursing students.
  • An NIU Observatory exhibit that demonstrates how a telescope works.
  • A book nook where visitors can sit and flip through fiction and non-fiction books about STEM and get future reading suggestions from local librarians.
  • Announcement of winners from the Rube Goldberg ® Wacky Contraptions Poster Contest, Science Video Contest, SF Teen Read Essay Contest, and Econ Illinois Stockmarket Game. There’s still time to enter. Visit STEMfest online for rules and deadlines.
  • Exhibition matches by FIRST robotics teams.

STEMfest aims to both entertain and educate. Volunteer NIU students and professors will be on hand to explain the science behind hands-on activities, demonstrations and exhibits.

“We had overwhelmingly positive reviews last year,” says Pati Sievert, NIU’s coordinator for STEM Outreach. “This year, with increased participation from outside groups and NIU departments, we seem to be picking up even more momentum. I am fielding calls from as far away as Springfield and Wisconsin from parents and teachers who are interested in attending.”

Spooky Science CauldronSTEMfest is part of the larger NIU STEM Outreach effort to spark young people’s interest in fields of critical importance to the U.S. economy. Over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs was three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs, and STEM jobs are expected to continue to grow at a faster rate than other jobs in the coming decade.

“We want to get children and adolescents excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, so they will pursue careers in those fields,” Sievert says. “We cannot rest on yesterday’s innovations. We need to encourage and invest in tomorrow’s innovators.”

Members of the public can arrive any time during the open-house-like STEMfest event. While entrance is free, a donation is suggested, and glow-in-the-dark wrist bands will be handed out to the first thousand donors of $5 or more. A limited number of STEMfest T-shirts will be available to those donating $25 or more. Parking will be available at the Convocation Center for a $5 fee.

Sievert also is looking for volunteer workers, particularly college students and teachers. Area teachers who participate will earn Continuing Professional Development Units. They also will receive booklets on how to create similar displays for their classrooms.

To volunteer or find more information, visit STEMfest online.

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