SANDY — When 11-year-old Henry Durham starts talking about science, his eyes light up.

"I think it’s really interesting to know what’s going on around you and how it all works," said Henry, who attends Freedom Elementary in Highland.

He added that he sees "all these questions that surround" commonplace things like a flower. There's no one he idolizes more than his older brothers, who know "a whole ton of stuff about science" and can usually answer his questions.

He excitedly recounted a memorable family hiking trip when his brother explained the mysteries of photosynthesis to him.

"All my kids love a wide breadth of science stuff," said his mother, Julie Durham. "Every time there was anything science-y, I would take my kids to it."

She was one of hundreds of parents attending the 2017 Utah STEM Fest on Tuesday, an annual exposition at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy.

The expo attracts more than 30,000 students, teachers and parents every year.

Dozens of local exhibitors set up interactive booths with hands-on activities for kids, from a vortex cannon that shoots concentrated air at delighted onlookers to a space ship simulator. Other booths included biotechnology secrets, Lego robots and drones equipped with thermal cameras.

"I feel like all these children are untapped resources, and if you can just give them the right spark, they’ll get excited," Durham said.

Rhandie Uban and his daughter, Amaya, attended the expo with other students from Pleasant Green Elementary in Magna. Amaya loves her science class, even though she said she wants to be a fashion designer one day.

"It’s really fun to experience how to do stuff, like putting all the chemicals together and watching it explode," she explained with grin.

Sometimes it's hard to find ways to talk about science and other STEM topics at home, Uban said. The expo provides practical and insightful activities to stimulate conversations about science.

"I want to explore what my daughter wants, not what I want," Uban continued. "It gives them an idea on what they’re interested in."

Amy Brown brought her daughters to the event, including 10-year-old A'mya, who said she loves working on the catapults in her science class.

"It makes them think outside of the box," Brown said. "I know I learn better using my hands rather than having somebody tell me something."

Her daughter attends Mountainville Academy in Alpine. Her fifth-grade teacher, Dawn McNeil, was the 2017 STEM Innovation Teacher of the Year.

"They’re the next innovators," McNeil said of her students. "We need to teach them in a very different way than we have been taught in generations past."

She helped open a STEM lab at the academy, giving middle school students a chance to experiment in various science activities. These hands-on opportunities are important to train kids for the jobs of tomorrow, McNeil added.

"We have to be able to teach in a way where we’re fostering creativity and collaboration and this innovative way of thinking," she said. "If we don’t, our students will be left behind."