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STEM Café to explore ‘making stuff stronger’

September 4, 2012
Materials scientists such as September’s STEM Café speaker Michael Haji-Sheikh study spider silk and other natural materials to develop new commercial materials.

Materials scientists such as September’s STEM Café speaker Michael Haji-Sheikh study spider silk and other natural materials to develop new commercial materials.

You might have heard that spider’s silk is one of the strongest materials in the natural world, but did you know that scientists are working to develop genetically-engineered goats that can produce a spider-like silk in their milk?

That’s just one of the weird and fascinating things happening in the world of materials science, a field of study that focuses on improving the every-day materials in things like your cell phone, your laptop and the roof of your house.

On Thursday, Sept. 13, NIU’s popular STEM Café series will explore new advancements in engineering and materials science with their program Making Stuff Stronger.

Join STEM Outreach and Michael Haji-Sheikh, associate professor of electrical engineering at NIU, for a free discussion at 6:30 p.m. at Taxco Restaurant, 223 W. State St. in Sycamore.

Haji-Sheikh will share the latest research and theories about increasing the strength of everyday and exotic materials.

This event is one of NIU’s monthly STEM Cafés where community members can hear a brief, informal talk on cutting-edge research in science, technology, engineering, and math and then discuss their own questions and comments with STEM experts.

STEM Cafés are free to the public. Throughout the evening, food and drink are available for purchase from Taxco.

September’s speaker, Haji-Sheikh, from NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, has a Ph.D. in civil engineering and has worked for leading corporations such as Bell Helicopter, Textron and Honeywell. He holds 14 U.S. patents and three European patents in the broad area of sensors and mechanics. As an avid cyclist and racer, who is also a materials expert, he will share secrets of the new strength in bicycles used by Olympic champions as well as in newly designed clothing and household tools.

This fall’s STEM Cafés are based on PBS’s “Making Stuff” series hosted by David Pogue.Making Stuff Stronger is part of a special series of STEM Cafés that STEM Outreach is presenting at local restaurants this fall to coincide with Public Television’s re-broadcast of the four-part NOVA series “Making Stuff,” which airs again Wednesday, Sept. 19.

The STEM Café series continues with “Making Stuff Smaller” at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, at Cabana Charley’s, 1470 S. Peace Road in Sycamore.

Experts will cover really small things – on the nano-scale. Join STEM Outreach to learn how nanotechnology is solving problems in engineering, medicine, and our everyday lives.

“NIU’s STEM Cafés are just one of many fun and engaging events STEM Outreach offers to the public throughout the year,” says Patricia Sievert, director of STEM Outreach. “We hope to increase public awareness of the critical role science and other STEM fields play in our world.”

STEM Outreach is also making plans for their annual celebration of science, technology, engineering and math, STEMfest. STEMfest 2012 takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at NIU’s Convocation Center.

More than 50 NIU departments and more than 400 students will join regional corporations, museums, educators and national labs to present hundreds of fun, hands-on activities to interest everyone from toddlers to teenagers to senior citizens. K-12 students and teachers can also participate in STEMfest competitions to win fabulous prizes such as gift cards, scholarships for NIU camps and professional development seminars or a live science show for your school.

Learn more about STEMfest activities and competitions at

For more information upcoming STEM Cafés and other events from STEM Outreach, visit or contact Judith Dymond at [email protected] or (815) 753-4751.