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The wonder and excitement of STEMFest

October 9, 2017

NIU’s annual STEMFest will once again welcome budding scientists and curious visitors of all ages. On Saturday, Oct. 21, the Midwest’s premier festival for celebrating science, technology, engineering and math will return to the NIU Convocation Center from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Many of the crowd’s favorite exhibits from previous years will be returning, including the hands-on laser lab and the newly updated bowling ball pendulum, which demonstrates conservation of energy. Pati Sievert, director of NIU STEM Outreach, is particularly looking forward to the annual Haunted Physics Lab and other STEM Exploration Labs. Sievert says, “I love the excitement and wonder that these engaging displays elicit in children.”

STEMFest will also debut some exciting new exhibits, including a crime-scene booth to introduce visitors to innovations in forensic science, which will be provided by this year’s largest sponsor, Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Adults and children of all ages will find something engaging and informative at STEMFest. “Many of the exhibits offer activities for multiple ages,” Sievert says. “While a child checks out the driver’s seat and controls of the formula one racer, his older sibling could be chatting with the NIU student-builders about opportunities at NIU.”

BLOCKfest®—an interactive building block experience for ages 8 months to 8 years—will capture the imagination of the youngest visitors. And the author and experts talks on the south lobby stage will attract older students, parents and grandparents.

Featured speakers include authors Nancy Cavanaugh (Elsie Mae Has Something to Say, This Journal Belongs to Ratchet) and Candace Fleming (Ben Franklin’s in My Bathroom, Giant Squid,), illustrator Eric Rohmann (Giant Squid, Time Flies), and NIU’s own Gillian King Cargile, author of the Stuffed Bunny Science Adventure Series. NIU Geography professor Walker Ashley will present a talk about tracking tornados. Additional speakers and a schedule of their talks will be available on the STEMfest website (

STEMFest is a collaboration of NIU’s P-20 Center, STEM student groups and regional organizations, which come together to provide a unique experience to thousands of visitors each year. One such regional organization, QuarkNet, is a local collaboration of high schools, NIU and Fermilab, where high school students use particle detectors to track and research cosmic rays.

Hundreds of volunteers also pitch in to make STEMFest possible each year. Last year about 700 NIU student volunteers, including NIU senior Jasmine Carey, shared their scientific expertise with visitors. Carey says she volunteers at STEMFest year after year “because STEMfest shows that science, technology, engineering and math are not scary and these subjects can actually be fun. I always love the children’s faces when I tell them how their favorite exhibit works because of the STEM principles behind it.”

STEMFest also presents the opportunity for K-12 students to share their talents through the annual Science Video Competition and STEM Entrepreneurship Contest. The contest deadline is Tuesday, Oct.10, and the winners will be announced at STEMFest. Contest details are available.

“The overall feeling at STEMfest is one of wonder and excitement,” says Sievert. “The energy of the young people is contagious and I always see people of all ages truly engaged in the experience.”

The event is free and open to the public, and no advanced registration is required. Free parking will be available.

For more information, visit or contact [email protected] or 815-753-1272.