Over the animated roar created by a mass of children’s voices mingling at the Columbia Young Scientists Expo, a few random remarks floated above the excited chatter.
“Science is fun.”
“See how cool all of this is.”
“Is that a real skull?”
Whether petting snakes, squeezing and pulling morphing metamaterials or running fingers over fossils of long-gone animals, about 600 children and their parents explored University of Missouri science, technology, engineering and math research and creative activity hands-on during the expo.
The event was held inside Memorial Union on March 11 and hosted by The Connector, a joint unit between MU’s Division of Research, Innovation & Impact and University of Missouri Extension. The unit connects the people, resources, tools and ideas of UM System research and creative activities for research development, communication, engagement and professional development to benefit Missourians and beyond.
“The Columbia Young Scientists Expo promotes STEM for people of all ages by connecting youth and families with science and technology research on the University of Missouri campus through hands-on exploration,” said Christal Huber, senior programming coordinator for The Connector. “We were so thrilled with how the Columbia Young Scientists Expo turned out. The researchers were interactive and engaging, and the attendance was fantastic. Everyone we spoke with expressed their gratitude for the event and hoped to return next year. Our goal was to encourage the next generation of scientists, and we are happy with our results.”
Various researchers representing 12 MU academic units, such as veterinary medicine, chemistry and engineering, attended the expo, where children were entranced with examples of research and creative activity they could touch, hear and see.
Chris O’Bryan, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, demonstrated for expo attendees his research into developing new methods in soft matter 3D printing and designing new biomaterials.
“One of the most important and enjoyable aspects of being a researcher is sharing your research with others,” he said. “Outreach events like the Columbia Young Scientists Expo give me the chance to share my enthusiasm for science and soft matter with the future generation. And I hope the research we’ve shown will inspire some of these students to pursue a career in science and engineering.”
Jim Schiffbauer, associate professor of geological sciences, attended the expo as the father of two elementary-aged children and also presented his research to attendees as a scientist.
“I’ve been participating in the Columbia Young Scientists Expo at every opportunity — from both sides, as a university researcher and a parent,” he said. “These types of events, especially those that showcase the breadth of research conducted on campus as well as opportunities within the community, are imperative in our efforts to build interests in science at a young age and recruit future STEM majors. The Connector team does an extraordinary job to put this together every year. It has honestly become the campus outreach event that I look forward to most.”
Other organizations, such as the Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson Middle School Zoo, Columbia STEM Alliance and Eurofins, also were part of the expo.
Earlier in the day, the Columbia Young Scientists Fair, a partnership with the Mid-Missouri Co-op of Home Educators), presented various science projects of home-school students from kindergarten to 12th grade.
The free expo followed in the afternoon, including an initial, sensory-friendly hour.
For more information about how The Connector delivers the people, resources, tools and ideas of UM System research and creative activities to the people of Missouri, visit theconnector.missouri.edu.