Students from fourth to 10th grade are getting hands-on experience with brains, a moon rock, underwater robots, tarantulas, an army mobile command center and more during STEM Fest this week.
The Utah STEM Action Center hosted the event Tuesday to spark children’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math, as many career options come from studying STEM. This year's event marks the eighth STEM Fest in Utah.
"Kids are born curious, they are naturally curious. And it's really important to help those kids understand that life is a journey of learning and exploration and seeing problems and solving problems," said Tami Goetz, director at the Utah STEM Action Center.
Hundreds of schools from across the state brought students to the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy on Tuesday where they got to interact with more than 60 exhibitors from STEM companies and industries. Exhibitors ranged from as large as NASA and Meta, to more local companies, such as Dominion Energy and the earth science program at Utah Valley University.
All exhibitors offered some kind of hands-on activity for students to participate in. Goetz said it's important the exhibitors came prepared to do things with the kids to show them how STEM is actually applied in real life.
"STEM is about playing, it's about having fun — building and breaking and fixing," she said.
Naomi Anson, a fifth grade teacher at DaVinci Academy of Science and the Arts, said she wasn't sure what to expect with STEM Fest since it was the first time the school attended. She said it has been really cool to see the kids interact with all of the different exhibits.
"They are having a blast. They got to see a human brain, that's what they're most excited about," Anson said.
Her students also spoke highly of touching a moon rock and getting to take a picture in a space suit at the NASA booth.
Grayson Taylor is an event coordinator with NASA who helped with the NASA trailer exhibit that had the moon rock. He said that there are lots of adults who are excited about space exploration, but it is important to instill the same excitement into the younger generation.
"Keeping that spark alive is really what matters and going to events like this can really ignite that spark for those students," Taylor said.
About 11,000 students are expected to attend over the two-day event, with some students traveling from as far as Daggett, Duchesne, Emery and Piute counties.
It was a hit with students on Tuesday.
SheTech, a program that aims to get more girls interested and involved in science and technology, showed students how to make fake snow by pouring water onto a super absorbent polymer.
Angela Layton was a participant in the SheTech program when she was in high school and now works for the company while she studies computer science at the University of Utah. She said SheTech came to STEM Fest to show that even at a young age, students can start thinking about going into tech.
"Tech is in everything. You have to use tech even in chemistry and other sciences. And it's also really fun to play with," Layton said, pointing to the fake snow the students got to make.
Kent Buck, a scientist at ARUP Laboratories, did a demonstration of pH-testing with solutions of water, soda, bleach and more. He taught kids at his booth how to make observations by showing them different solutions and having them use sight and smell to guess how the solution was made. Children also got to test the pH of each solution, which helped them make their observations.
"STEM education is really important and we want to encourage that in kids and in other students, even college students," Buck said.
Buck said he thinks the best way to help society right now is to invest in the next generation's skills and education is a large part of that.
The UVU Earth Science Department showcased rocks, minerals and fossils.
Matt Olson, with that UVU department, manned the rock booth at STEM Fest. He said kids gravitate towards rocks because they love to feel them and make observations about them.
"I think that cultivating that curiosity will continue to keep people interested in caring about the earth," Olson said.
STEM Fest was open to the public Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. More student field trips were slated to be held Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.