Science, technology projects in spotlight at ‘Exploration-U’ exhibit

bmilazzo@centredaily.comMarch 25, 2014 

— The Penn State LionTech Rocket Lab Club builds rockets and enters them in competitions around the country.

Junior Alex Balcher, a mechanical engineering student, said it took a few months to design and build Project Maverick — a graphite-epoxy crafted rocket that can be launched as far as a mile into the air.

The team is currently in the process of building three more rockets — a target rocket, an egg rocket and a rover rocket — that will be a part of the Battle of the Rockets competition in Virginia next month.

Project Maverick was just one rocket showcased at the second annual Exploration-U STEM Fair at State College Area High School, hosted in collaboration with Penn State.

With 35 stations and an estimated 700 guests, the mission of the fair was to exhibit projects that incorporate science, technology, engineering and math.

“Exposure is always the best option,” said Sharon Perry, director of the Career and Technical Center for the State College Area School District. “Kids become career-motivated when things are hands-on and interactive.”

Tod McPherson, district science coordinator said, said STEM is a nationwide initiative that integrates all aspects of the sciences.

“You have science and then you have math, but when you connect the two you get your technology and engineering,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is expose the kids to many different ways that these different disciplines integrate together so we can help build scientists for the future.”

Exploration-U was initiated with the district two years ago, when a former science coordinator contacted the university to help enhance the STEM initiative at a local level, said Mike Zeman, director of Science-U at Penn State’s Eberly College of Science.

“It brings all those pieces together in hopes to inspire the next generation of critical thinkers and investigate STEM careers,” Zeman said.

Zeman said careers like engineering are growing, and events such as the STEM fair are helping attract children into science-related programs when they enter college.

Seven-year-old Ava Bechtel, a Ferguson Township Elementary School student, said the bug display was her favorite, followed by a hockey activity setup by the Penn State All-Sports Museum.

Children were able to shoot the puck on goal, then test their reaction times by catching a ruler that was dropped vertically into their hands, and compare that to the reaction time of a hockey goaltender, said Aimee Brown-Shadduck, program and education coordinator.

At another station, Josh Hrisko and partner Joe Schneiderwind, who study acoustics at Penn State, presented a demonstration with homemade speakers made of PVC pipe.

Hrisko said the two were showing children how acoustics make more than just sound. With Styrofoam pieces in an acoustic levitator speaker, the music played though it, allowing the thermal insulation pieces to rise.

“It’s just another way science can surprise people,” Hrisko said.

Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @M11azzo.

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