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Cover of the Winter 2008 issue


VOL. 34, NO. 2





Engineering EXPO 2007 encourages kids
to explore science

Exhibit featuring non-Newtonian fluids at EXPO 2007

Exhibit featuring non-Newtonian fluids at EXPO 2007 (large image)

Torrian Ricks decided to challenge a UW-Madison student’s claim that a person could walk across a plastic wading pool full of liquid resembling green milk. Stripping off his socks and shoes, the high-school student took a running leap into the pool—and bounded lightly across the surface. Disbelievingly, Ricks tried jumping on it, hopping in a merry jig, his feet leaving shallow impressions that quickly rebounded. He paused for a moment to laugh—and promptly sank ankle-deep into the goop.

Ricks and his classmates from Brown Deer High School had just learned firsthand the properties of non-Newtonian fluids, matter that has characteristics of both solid and liquid.

Hands-on activities were the center of Engineering EXPO 2007, a three-day student-organized event that brought thousands of elementary-, middle- and high-school students to campus April 19-21. Sixty-nine learning stations, eight competitions and two interactive presentations encouraged visitors to discover science and engineering for themselves, in keeping with the EXPO 2007 theme: explore.

In addition to playing with oobleck, the non-Newtonian goo, attendees sampled ice cream mixed on the spot with liquid nitrogen, navigated remotely controlled robots through an obstacle course, built their own small hovercrafts, catapulted tennis balls across a parking lot, explored the inner workings of hybrid vehicles, witnessed skeletal and muscular imagery in motion, launched gliders over Engineering Mall and visited dozens of other interactive exhibits.

Science is Fun presentation at EXPO 2007

Science is Fun presentation at EXPO 2007 (large image)

Wonders of Physics at EXPO 2007

A student demonstrates the law of inertia with the aid of a spinning bicycle tire at the Wonders of Physics presentation. (large image)

EXPO 2007 also featured the return of the popular presentation “Science is Fun.” Chemistry graduate student Mike Boll led crowds of students through the scientific method, observation, hypothesis generation and safety, in a lively “whiz-bang” demonstration of chemical and combustion reactions.

“I love the reactions of the students,” says Boll. “My favorite part is when they come up after and ask questions about it. They’re really interested. It’s not just the ‘ooh-ahh’ factor; they really want to know what’s going on in that experiment.”

Besides the learning exhibits and presentations, competitions gave students the chance to explore problem-solving and teamwork. In one competition, elementary- and middle-school students were challenged to transport eight team members across a room in the shortest amount of time, without having direct contact with the floor, using only two paper plates, a rope and a small scooter.

“They’ve come up with a lot of different strategies,” said Forrest Woolworth, the EXPO competitions chair, then a junior electrical and computer engineering student. “I have been really surprised at how many different things they’ve come up with just on the spur of the moment.”

Exploring non-Newtonian fluids at EXPO 2007
Remotely controlled robot at EXPO 2007
Problem-solving competition at EXPO 2007

As chair, Woolworth planned and supervised all competitive events for EXPO, as well as worked with other chairs (16 in all) to plan and execute the entire three days of festivities—all outside of class.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” says Woolworth. “It’s great to be involved.”

Welding demonstration at EXPO 2007

Welding demonstration at EXPO 2007 (large image)

The volunteers’ efforts paid off for students whose passion for science was ignited during their visit—students such as Ricks, who admitted to having invested little interest in his science class. “Now I think science can be fun,” he said. “I’m going to go home and try some of this stuff for myself.”

Cover of the EXPO 2007 brochure
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