Community invited to ‘electrify minds’ June 6

Bright FuturesWhat is green, sits on rusty metal nails, and has 120 volts of electricity shooting through its vinegary center? It’s the electrified pickle, and it’s going to get zapped again Thursday, June 6, when NIU STEM Outreach and DeKalb County libraries present the Bright Futures Electricity Fair.

The Electricity Fair will be held at the DeKalb Public Library from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Families are invited to explore energy, electricity and electrical engineering by participating in hands-on activities and electricity demonstrations from STEM Outreach; the Time Arts program in the NIU School of Art; the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability, & Energy; Lights for Learning; and more.

This celebration will mark the end of another successful season of Bright Futures, which began its 2013 program in February with energy parties at DeKalb, Cortland, Sycamore and Hinckley public libraries. Throughout the spring, NIU’s STEM Outreach and the libraries have offered free events on everything from using Play-Doh to construct basic circuits to creating miniature windmills to understand the engineering behind wind turbines.

Steven Roman led the Squishy Circuit activity at last year’s fair. The activity is back by popular demand in 2013.
Steven Roman led the Squishy Circuit activity at last year’s fair. The activity is back by popular demand in 2013.

Steve Roman, DeKalb Public Library’s librarian for teens, created the program with STEM Outreach in 2012 and was instrumental in expanding it to additional libraries this year.

“The Bright Futures program has been useful in demonstrating that science need not be intimidating, that it can in fact be a creative and enjoyable endeavor,” Roman said. “Thanks to our partnership with NIU STEM Outreach, we have been able to reach a considerable number of youth and families using both programming and materials that teach about electronics and electricity.”

This year, organizers expanded the program thanks to a grant from the DeKalb County Community Foundation.

In addition to interactive events, the Bright Futures program allowed libraries to purchase hands-on kits that help kids learn the basics of circuitry and electronics. These kits and other electricity-related materials are now available for check-out from participating libraries.

STEM Outreach Associate Jeremy Benson presented electricity demonstrations throughout the program and has seen the excitement that kids experience first-hand. The program has been an important step in exposing DeKalb County’s youth to a variety of careers in science, which is one of the goals of STEM Outreach, Benson said.

“Ultimately, and most importantly, the science kits and interactions with professionals encourage students that science is something THEY CAN DO,” he said. “Science isn’t something that is reserved for white-haired old men in lab coats. It’s all around us and its applications affect our lives every day.”

Roman and other organizers hope that the Electricity Fair will expose even more kids and families to the opportunities that an education rich in science can provide.

Jeremy Benson posed with STEM fans at the 2012 Electricity Fair.
Jeremy Benson posed with STEM fans at the 2012 Electricity Fair.

At the fair, families are invited to:

  • Build squishy circuits with play-dough, batteries and wire
  • Use human power to light up light bulbs
  • Test windmill designs
  • Make electric art
  • Hear a musical performance that uses “circuit bending” to turn toys into instruments
  • Look inside NIU’s all-electric truck
  • Experience an electrified pickle
  • Get their faces painted with electricity-related designs
  • Sample electrocuted hot dogs
  • Check out new books, DVDs and hands-on electricity kits from the library’s circulating collection

Also at the fair, NIU faculty member Bart Woodstrup will present the electric art project he is creating with his student Philip Pellicore.

This solar visualization piece measures the amount of solar power it collects throughout the day by “growing” an image of a flower on a monitor. Each day, the piece will grow a new and unique flower and each flower will be affected by the amount of solar power available.

Woodstrup is an assistant professor in NIU’s Time Arts Department and has led the Bright Futures Electric Art Lab for the past two years. “I enjoy watching the children discover the creativity that lies in science, math, and engineering and also learning about the technology that is integral to the art-making process,” said Woodstrup.

Woodstrup’s 2012 electric art project is on permanent display at DeKalb Public Library.
Woodstrup’s 2012 electric art project is on permanent display at DeKalb Public Library.

His solar visualization project will be on display at DeKalb, Cortland, Sycamore, and Hinckley public libraries throughout the summer. The electric art piece he created for the 2012 Bright Futures program – a glowing, Plexiglas book inscribed with information on electricity and circuitry – is on permanent display at DeKalb Public Library.

It is important to create works of art that everyone can enjoy, Woodstrup said. “Public art reminds us that we share a community and together we aspire to grow and prosper. Art represents our collective desires, goals and experiences; it exists to inspire us to do great things,” he said.

Woodstrup is just one of the many experts who will be on hand to present live electricity demonstrations and answer questions about their work. Organizers encourage learners of all ages to attend the fair, eat electrified hot dogs and get excited about science.

For more information about the DeKalb Public Library Electricity Fair, call Roman at (815) 756-9568 ext. 280. The DeKalb Public Library is open seven days a week and is located at 309 Oak St. in DeKalb.

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