The 2014 North Carolina Science Festival: More events equals more fun

Dr. Carmen Huffman talks with audience members following the chemistry magic show. Photo by Tanner Hall.

Dr. Carmen Huffman engages audience following the chemistry magic show. Photo by Tanner Hall.

The North Carolina Science Festival is a celebration of science, technology engineering and math (STEM) spanning from March 28 to April 13 in which students from across the state travel to compete in fun, engaging STEM-related activities.

Students in all of WNC gathered on Western’s campus this past weekend for their 2014 NC Science Festival experience. On Friday, April 5, Dr. Enrique Gomez hosted the annual “Star Party” event where the community met at the Jackson County Airport to stargaze through telescopes and enjoy the incredible view.

Saturday featured a variety of events that lasted throughout the entire day, including a Room of Inquiry Challenge, a 3-D Design and Engineering Challenge and a LEGO Sculptures and STEM Challenge.

Teams of middle and high school students along with individual competitors were invited to participate in each event.

The Room of Inquiry Challenge relied heavily on the scientific method by having students solve problems through experimentation, while the 3-D Design and Engineering Challenge was a race against time to construct models with the materials provided to them.

The LEGO Sculptures Challenge – a follow-up to the LEGO Summit event last year – asked students to use their creativity in building structures around a central theme of the role STEM plays in energy.

Voting for the best sculptures was available to the public as the STEM Exhibition and Social took place throughout the rest of the day. Alongside light refreshments, the social gave young kids an opportunity to meet, interact with and learn from WCU students and faculty in STEM-related fields to get a better understanding of the festival’s main objective.

“Science is all about experimentation, exploration and learning. Demonstrating these aspects of science to young students is especially important,” said Dr. Carmen Huffman, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics at Western, in an email message. “They need to know how important science is to our society and that becoming a scientist is a fun and exciting career possibility.”

WCU’s portion of the NC Science Festival concluded with an all-new awards ceremony and an explosive chemistry magic show performed by Huffman.

“I often perform the chemistry magic show at area schools and events. When the coordinators asked me if I would be willing to add it to the day’s events, I readily agreed,” said Huffman. “We made slime, did a reaction called ‘elephant toothpaste’ where soapy foam shoots up out of a tall glass tube, played with liquid nitrogen and of course, had a couple of explosions.”

Overall, this year’s festival made progress on its goal by mixing entertainment and science and fostering good-spirited competition through more expansive activities for young students in the region.

More information about the NC Science festival can be found here.