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Musical Tesla Coil, Rockets & Man-made Cave among USF Engineering Expo Highlights

From virtually controlling a robot, exploring a man-made cave, and creating their own lip gloss, the more than 20,000 people who attended the recent USF Engineering Expo had a huge variety of activities to choose from.

The 41st Annual Engineering Expo—believed to be one of the longest running events at USF—drew in students from elementary, middle and high schools around the Bay area and across the Southeast United States.


“The purpose of the Expo is to educate students on the value of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math),” said Michael Guinn, who’s in charge of Undergraduate Recruitment & Outreach for the USF College of Engineering. “Different things they can do in the field, different ways companies can show students what the real applications are from what they’re learning in school.”

Visitors took in nearly 100 different interactive exhibits.

“You can read in a textbook, you know, ‘this and this and this,’” said Expo President, Computer Engineering Masters student Christine Bringes. “But seeing something like a water bottle rocket shoot up in the air or a laser light show is so much more meaningful, especially to a kid, to see how science really works and what it means.”

That includes science in the “real world,” as companies like TECO, Lockheed and Mosaic, as well as organizations like the Air Force and the Florida Concrete & Products Association, demonstrated how they use STEM.

“It’s important to see how a STEM education can affect your life as an adult, as a worker in the workforce,” Bringes said. “You could be an anthropologist and use technology all the time, you could be an engineer from TECO and use STEM skills as well.”

But it’s USF student organizations that rule the Expo.

“We have a similar perspective, we’ve all been here as a student coming to see exhibits,” said Bringes, who attended the Expo as a high school student. “We know what’s relevant and we’ve just recently gone through science education and we want to share what we know.”

Among the almost 50 student groups presenting their work were the Society of Women Engineers, the White Hatters Computer Security Club, and X-Labs, which put together a Blue Man Group / "Do not try this at home!" style show featuring loud music, fire (lesson: seven pounds of thermite does NOT cook well in a microwave), and a 10-foot-tall Tesla coil that plays music with electricity.


“It’s just what they like, so it’s a way to connect with them through the music and through the sound and through the lights,” said X-Labs president Coyt Barringer, a USF freshman studying electrical engineering.

“I used to come to Expo when I was kid and it’s definitely part of what made me want to become an engineer,” said X-Labs founder and electrical engineering PhD student Joseph Register.  

“What we’re doing here, I feel like we’re just sort of inspiring the next generation and keeping the ball rolling.”

The Expo remains popular with both schools and families—about 17,000 students from over 300 schools attended on Friday, February 22nd, while a much smaller number of families, along with Scout groups seeking merit badges, came out the next day.

“It really gives families a chance to interact in the STEM field,” said Guinn. “A lot of times parents don’t go to school with their children, so they don’t necessarily get to see this stuff, STEM, in action.”

And with the continuing emphasis on STEM education, Guinn sees even more growth possible for the Expo, which brought in just a quarter of this year’s crowd only six years ago.

“I’d like for it to get bigger, I don’t know if we can really accommodate many more people!” he says with a nervous laugh.

Sounds like a challenge for an engineer.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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