Did you know that Play-Doh conducts electricity?
Neither did 11-year-old Colin Mertes of Batavia, despite being a veteran of the ScienceBlast event held every year by the robotics team at Batavia High School. "I like it here because I like robots a lot," he said of the morning of science fun geared to kids in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Colin's mother Shelby Mertes said he's been coming to the yearly event since it was first held five years ago."He's very interested in this kind of stuff. You have to find the type of thing that they're good at, and you have to pursue that," she said.
ScienceBlast serves as both a fundraiser for the robotics team, and as a way to entice younger kids to get into science in general, and robotics specifically, team coach Chris Burken said.
Participants got to make their own "bristle bots," or moving toothbrush heads attached to tiny motors, and Rube Goldberg-inspired contraptions (think chain reactions such as dropping balls that make a string pull a lever to drop another ball). They also got to check out a robot made with Legos, and witness how electricity moves through Play-Doh to light up LED lights.
The event also featured "Thunder Kiwi," the basketball-shooting robot made by the robotics team for this year's FIRST ("For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology") robotics competition. The team is sponsored by Caterpillar Inc.
Though the robot didn't do so well at the competition -- its defensive skills apparently didn't have a chance to shine in the early stages explained -- it was a hit on Saturday. "I even played soccer with it," Colin said.
The robotics team includes 22 members and seven coaches, plus several community mentors. Meetings take place after school at Batavia High School, but membership is open to area high school students.
"We want to give some of that enthusiasm that there is in athletics to science, and acknowledge achievements for the brain," said head coach Tom Kroc, who heads the neutron therapy facility at Fermilab.
Team member Dustin Mann, 18, a senior at Batavia High, said being on the team "is just awesome." "It's a really great program. We get to use professional software and technology, and have real-life experiences," he said.
Senior Diane Bernardoni said she enjoys the chance to expose younger kids to her passion. "We want to spread STEM," she said, using the acronym for "science, technology, engineering and mathematics."
"We want to encourage that in young minds, because there is so much growth and development here," she said. "In the future, this is where the jobs are at. But just the experience helps expand the mind."