Thousands experience science at successful Engineering Expo
Standing anywhere in the Engineering Centers Building atrium April 14, 15 and 16, it was impossible to ignore the bass thundering out of a very large stereo speaker located at the north end of the building.
This was no ordinary speaker.
“Just last night,” said electrical engineering PhD student Dan Ludois on April 14, “we submitted it to the Guiness Book of World Records.”
Measuring 8 feet square and 2 feet deep with a 6-foot-diameter cone, the speaker truly was one of a kind. Ludois and friends Justin Reed and Kyle Hanson built it specifically for its attention-grabbing value at Engineering Expo, a biennial three-day event that draws thousands of students, teachers and parents to the College of Engineering campus.
The group succeeded. The super-sized speaker—and Engineering Expo itself—attracted nearly 7,000 elementary-, middle- and high-school students, teachers and parents from such Wisconsin locales as La Crosse, Whitewater, Poynette and Sheboygan Falls. “We had 74 buses of students show up on Thursday and 40 on Friday,” says Alicia Jackson, who directs the Student Leadership Center in the College of Engineering.
In a two-year process that begins not long after the last event ends, Engineering Expo is planned and staffed entirely by engineering students. This large-scale open house offers students from all engineering disciplines the opportunity to share their passion for engineering with public audiences.
Conversely, Expo visitors young and old had the unique chance to experience hands-on engineering activities and to explore five buildings on the engineering campus. First-graders from Sauk Prairie schools toured the fusion experiment Pegasus. Third-graders from Leopold Elementary School in Madison learned how materials behave under extreme conditions as they watched materials science and engineering students use liquid nitrogen to freeze a banana and use it as a hammer. Eighth-graders from Savannah Oaks Middle School, Verona, learned how municipal solid waste facilities work at an exhibit titled, “What happens to your garbage?”
Their chaperone, Savannah Oaks special education teacher Maria Carvalho, called their Expo experience beneficial. “The kids have so much energy,” she said. “Today, they have been focused and learning and really enjoying this.”
Watching the Rube Goldberg competition, in which teams of high school students designed and built a complex machine that could raise a flag in 20 or more steps, Poynette High School chemistry teacher Kevin Amundson praised the variety of exhibits Expo offered. “I have several students with an interest in engineering,” he said. “I think Expo gives them a chance to see what you can do with engineering and what fields there are.”
Expo included four keynote speakers and six competitions and featured more than 45 hands-on exhibits and demonstrations. In one room in the Mechanical Engineering Building, Expo attendees learned about nuclear energy from members of the American Nuclear Society student chapter, which also earned the Expo award and $1,000 for best student organization exhibit. Next door, Society of Women Engineers student members used balloons, soda cans submerged in tubs of water, and marshmallows to demonstrate physics concepts to visitors. Elsewhere, event-goers could learn how engineers contribute to medicine and medical devices, how to capture energy from ocean waves, how materials’ microstructure and processing affects knife properties such as hardness, how to maximize a product’s design based on a fixed cost, and much more.
Leopold Elementary parent Kris Cotharn appreciated Engineering Expo’s emphasis on exploring current scientific achievements to encourage future scientific endeavors. “I think it’s important to expose them to opportunities they have if they go into the field of science,” she said.