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Curious kids explore the super STEM Fair at MOTAT

23 April 2018

MOTAT was inundated with a gaggle of excited and curious young scientists at the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Fair.

Formerly known as the MOTAT Science Street Fair, the annual event is hosted in partnership with the University of Auckland and the NZ Association of Scientists.

University of Auckland organiser, Dr Nicolette Rattenbury from the Department of Maths, says the STEM Fair involved staff from three faculties (Science, Medical and Health Science and Engineering), making it a much bigger enterprise than in previous years.

“We had a huge buy-in from Science with staff and students from eight departments and schools, as well as a number of speciality programmes, attending on the day,” Nicolette says.

“Events such as the STEM Fair are essential to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. It is important to be part of this to help spark enthusiasm in children and to promote the University to potential students.”

Mathematics, Physics, Biological Sciences, Computer Science, Anthropological Science, Exercise Sciences – and the Photon Factory, Devora (Environment) and ELLA (Psychology) – all had stands at the Fair where staff interacted with visitors.

Visitors experienced the wonder behind the current slime craze (with 11-year-old Slime Princess Katharina Weichede), glow in the dark bugs, robots, volcanos and much more.

If slime isn’t your thing, families could build their own robot, have a go on a homemade hovercraft or get hands-on with biologists as they demonstrated how to extract DNA from strawberries using every-day household equipment.

Visitors could also take a moment to consider Auckland’s volcanic hazards and risks while enjoying the explosive demonstrations from DEVORA’s real-life volcano and earthquake scientists; get wrapped up with Maths origami, search for pottery and tools in the archaeological dig, take a virtual reality journey in a tank full of protein molecules and watch them assemble into a giant structure, examine the micro-world through a Foldscope lens, and get right up close to a 3D printer in action.

“My favourite part of this event is chatting with children of all ages,” Nicolette says.

She spoke to one four-year-old boy who could tell her the components of a basic circuit. “It is fantastic being able to engage with that kind of passion.”

Dr Hilary Sheppard from the School of Biological Sciences agrees that seeing the kids get really excited about a very simple experiment is inspirational.

“The look of awe on their [and their parents] faces when we extracted DNA from strawberries and they could actually see it easily with the naked eye was cool,” she says. “And also seeing how parents get excited about their kids being excited!”

The most unusual thing she saw on her stand was two brothers, sharing a microscope. “They were mirror twins and were viewing something at the same time, with one eye each – one using his left eye and the other using his right eye. It was very cute.”

Hilary believes the event is an effective form of outreach and intends to get involved again next year.

“The Fair is a good way for the public to interact with scientists and see that we are just normal, friendly people,” she says. “I think being here and being visible makes science seem less scary and easier to understand and engage with, and inspires young minds to see science as a potential future career.”

The 2018 STEM Fair was held on Sunday 8 April 2018, between 10am to 4pm.

Read the MOTAT media release.

Read 'Kids are born scientists' - Siouxsie Wiles talks STEM and sexism


Twins sharing a microscope
Twins sharing a microscope
Tiny scientists ready to work
Tiny scientists ready to explore
Helping a young scientist tackle a challenge
Helping a young scientist tackle a challenge
Taking a spin on a very creative hovercraft
Taking a spin on a very creative hovercraft
Searching for pottery in the archaeological dig
Searching for pottery in the archaeological dig
Conducting experiments is lots of fun
Conducting experiments is lots of fun