Saturday, March 2, 2013

Get Your Science On

Last week, geeks and nerds alike congregated in downtown Tempe to celebrate all things cool (read: science).

“Geeks Night Out” featured interactive exhibits to promote everything from science to science fiction to the business of science.

As an ardent supporter of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, Rio Salado College co-hosted a booth to extoll the wonders of nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology?

Yup. In case you didn’t know it, nanotechnology is all around us. It’s in cosmetics and clothes and lasers and airplane coatings.

To help explain nanotechnology concepts, visitors to Rio Salado’s booth could witness demonstrations of nanotechnology in everyday products.

They were also invited to test a million-dollar microscope located at the Nanotechnology Applications Career Knowledge Center at Penn State University.

Visitors used a regular computer with a 4G cell phone link to control every aspect of the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), including focusing and magnifying. Samples loaded included a spider, fly, DVD, and copper nanowires. Testers were also able to print high-resolution images of their samples to keep as souvenirs.

“I was pleased that the Nanotechnology booth was very popular,” said Rick Vaughn, Rio Salado College STEM Faculty Chair. “Students and parents lined up to control the microscope, examine a twelve inch silicon wafer, play with polymers, and write their name in binary code.”

Geeks Night Out was just one of many activities taking place during February and March as part of the statewide Arizona SciTech Festival, which aims to “bring out the curiosity within.”

“Although not fully developed, a student’s aptitude for math and science is determined at a relatively early age,” Vaughn said. “If we can encourage the youth of today to pursue STEM skills, especially in the crucial middle school years, we can build the pipeline of high-tech workers necessary for Arizona to compete in a global marketplace.”

Other Rio Salado STEM initiatives include 2-year degree and certificate programs in Engineering Technology, Pre-Engineering programs, and the SMILE Noyce Scholars program for STEM professionals transitioning into teaching careers.

Rio Salado’s second event celebrating the Arizona SciTech Festival and STEM education is a Digital Technology and Journalism panel discussion on March 7 from 5:30-7 p.m. Students from KJZZ’s SPOT 127 youth media initiative and local experts, including KJZZ’s Digital Media Editor Tracy Greer and KJZZ’s IT Manager Rick Gould, will discuss reaching the digital generation with news and information.  The event takes place at the Conference Center @ Rio, 2323 W. 14th Street in Tempe.