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STEMfest draws all ages for hands-on fun

September 26, 2018

Dissecting cow eyeballs, maneuvering robots and investigating a dramatized crime scene are just a few of the hands-on activities that bring all ages to the annual STEMfest, one of Northern Illinois University’s most popular events.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at the NIU Convocation Center, NIU departments and student groups, regional corporations, museums, educators and national labs will team up to offer more than 200 science-, technology-, engineering- and math-related (STEM) activities at this free, family-friendly festival.

“This is my favorite time of year!” says Sam Watt, a STEM educator with NIU STEAM and one of the STEMfest organizers. “STEMfest is so exciting to me because everyone who comes finds something that interests and motivates them. I got into education to see wonder and curiosity in my students’ eyes. At STEMfest, I see that wonder in the eyes of kids and adults alike.”

NIU STEM Educator Kate Powers agrees. “I think the setup at STEMfest prevents people from feeling intimidated when interacting with science, so it makes science accessible and exciting for everyone,” she says. “There is also a palpable feeling of community engagement because so many different groups are there to show off their cool stuff and teach the public about their work.”

Entering its ninth year, STEMfest draws huge crowds because of its fun interactive activities. Visitors will have a chance to explore the Haunted Physics Lab, examine cell cultures under a microscope, and launch a weather balloon with NIU’s Department of Geographic and Atmospheric Sciences.

The STEMfest organizers are still seeking NIU departments and student organizations who wish to share their STEM-related activity. Register for a booth (free for NIU organizations) by the Tuesday, Oct. 2 deadline.

Watt says he is particularly looking forward to some of the new exhibits that will debut this year, such as an interactive art studio where visitors can decorate a floor with UV reactive paint, which glows under a black light. Another exhibit he’s looking forward to is a working aluminum foundry.

“I am thrilled to see FeLion Studios bring their aluminum foundry from Madison,” Watt says. “Alisa, the artist, will have sand tiles available for people to scratch and design as a casting. Every hour or so, she will pour molten aluminum into the casts for people to take home.”

Watt continues, “This kind of exhibit is really important because it combines physics, engineering, chemistry, metallurgy and mathematics with artistry. It’s a unique medium, and I hope it inspires kids and adults to tap into their creative sides.”

Speaking of creative sides, this year will also mark the first Northern Illinois Mini Maker Faire, which will be held in conjunction with STEMfest. Visitors are invited to explore both events, which together celebrate ingenuity, creativity and experimentation. Makers are encouraged to register for a booth.

What is a Mini Maker Faire? It is a gathering of people who make things—from crafters to programmers, fiber artists to engineers. The Maker Faire offers a chance for anyone who applies their ingenuity to make or build things to share their hobby or passion with others.

“I’m excited to bring together creative people from across our region who are interested in making things and sharing their skills and enthusiasm,” says Pati Sievert, NIU STEM Outreach director and the Faire coordinator. “The energy and excitement at a Maker Faire are contagious.”

The STEMfest website contains information for visitors, exhibitors, potential volunteers and sponsors, as well as information about scout and youth group activities.

This family-friendly event is free and open to the public. No registration is required, and parking is free. Most of the exhibits are completely free, but books, T-shirts, electronic kits and other STEM-related items will be for sale.