CER engages students with interactive exhibits at the High Tech Fair
October 21-22, 2014
CER participated as an exhibitor for the first time in the High Tech Fair, an annual event organized by the non-profit . The Fair brings alive scientific concepts middle and high school students are currently learning, and introduces them to possible STEM career paths.
CER’s booth showcased principles of electricity generation and distribution, renewable energy sources, and solar forecasting. “We made a strong effort to make our stall tell a coherent story about how CER investigates several energy sources, and how these need to be incorporated into the electricity grid for everyday use,” elaborated Simon Bott-Suzuki, the Principal Investigator at CER’s Pulsed Power Plasmas group.
Students were able to physically interact with each CER demonstration, and were encouraged to answer questions about the science phenomena they were seeing. “The hands-on nature of much of our display worked really well, and you could see the students following the story we were telling about energy delivery through the grid, and the physics behind generators,” observed Bott-Suzuki.
Many students were drawn to the table by the colorful and dynamic plasma ball, and were surprised to learn that the electricity from the plasma was going through them towards the ground. The Coimbra Energy Group built an LED screen that displayed solar power output. Attendees could change the display by putting their hands between a solar cell and a strong lamp simulating the sun.
CER’s most interactive activity involved students building their own electric motors with three items they might find at home, a battery, a magnet, and piece of wire. “When you get it right, the magnet starts spinning. It’s a neat demonstration of electromagnetism at work, and we got so many ‘wow!’ comments and smiles from the students when they made it happen. It’s when you see that spark of interest in how things work that make these events such fun to support,” said Bott-Suzuki.
CER researcher Christopher McGuffey also appreciated his ability to positively influence fair attendees. “I enjoyed speaking with the students about the future of energy use and the need for sustainable technologies. I was very heartened by their enthusiasm toward understanding generators, motors, and power distribution.”
In addition to supporting CER’s outreach goals, the fair provided a valuable opportunity for center members who work on different projects to collaborate as a team. 15 CER members from four different research groups staffed the booth throughout the two-day event.
The High Tech Fair started 16 years ago when Rancho Bernardo High School asked STEM professionals to come talk to students about their careers. It has evolved into a two-day event with about 60 exhibitors and 4,300 attendees. Student/parent night on Tuesday Oct. 21 was open to the public and attracted about 1,000 people, including science clubs, girl and boy scout troupes, and homeschool families. Wednesday was strictly for 7-12 graders, with 3,300 students from over 50 different schools. Exhibitors were divided into seven categories- biotech, energy & cleantech, conservation & environment, aerospace & engineering, healthtech, infotech, and robotics- and included local companies, non-profits and universities.