There's more to science, technology, engineering and mathematics than equations and calculations. There's also an art to STEM, and West Virginia University featured both this week as it joined more than 40 research institutions at the USA Science & Engineering Festival from April 25-27 in Washington, D.C.
WVU showcased biometrics, mechanical engineering and radio astronomy through its theme developed for the festival, "The Art of STEM."
The festival, the largest of its type in North America, was a national grassroots effort that aims to advance STEM education and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.
"The USA Science and Engineering Festival brings together some of the top STEM students in our geographic area and is an incredible opportunity to promote awareness of West Virginia University's stature as a leading public research land-grant university to these outstanding students," Provost Michele Wheatly said.
"Our exhibit, 'The Art of Stem,' is a technical and creative way to showcase some of our STEM disciplines - and we are hopeful many of these talented teens will want to learn more about them as future WVU students."
Anchored by a student-designed and built Competition Mini Baja Car that highlights work in mechanical engineering via a wild virtual ride, the 600-square-foot WVU exhibit will feature state-of-the-art displays and interactive activities within three main STEM fields at the University.
"Our hands-on exhibit space allows visitors to gain a better understanding of what is offered at West Virginia University, as well as experience the fields in an exciting and unique way," says Sharon Martin, vice president of University Relations. "Combining science with art is what happens in classrooms and labs at WVU every day."
A biometrics display, titled "The Art of YOU," highlights facial recognition and iris scanning technology. Visitors will be able to have their faces and irises scanned with cameras, and in the facial recognition display, watch as a computer identifies their face from a larger database. Special prints will be given to all who participate, and information is then deleted.
Mechanical engineering will be highlighted by the SAE Mini Baja Car Competition, a collegiate competition in which teams of engineering students at colleges and universities around the nation design, fund and build a small-scale racing Baja vehicle using the same unmodified engine in the "Designing a Winner" exhibit. WVU has won the competition four times and finished in the top 10 more than 20 times in the 20 years of the competition. Visitors will be able to get into the cockpit of a real competition Baja car and experience the race through driver's-eye video of the actual competition. A custom-developed iPad app will walk visitors through some of the decisions and design tradeoffs student teams face as they build their vehicles.
The third exhibit, "Music of the Stars," represents WVU astrophysics and radio astronomy with pulsars. Beautiful 3-D video animations of pulsars and information about what they are and how astronomers use them will complement six interactive iPad apps: one application will allow visitors to listen to actual pulsar sounds and learn more about each unique pulsar while another lets visitors have some fun by mixing pulsar sounds with music to create their own "Art of STEM."
The exhibit will also feature 11 large flat screen TVs displaying custom-developed content that not only highlights the three STEM fields, but also a variety of information about the University, including facts and rankings, locations of divisional campuses, the WVU Extension Service, the Personal Rapid Transit system and the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center.
The exhibit, a joint effort of the Provost's office, University Relations and University Events, will be staffed by WVU students and experts who will interact with thousands of visitors for more than eight hours each day.
The University first participated in the festival in 2012 with a 300-square-foot exhibit space that featured a cutaway Toyota Prius highlighting work in alterative fuel sources. Thousands of visitors attend over the span of three days, with Friday being reserved for school groups and Saturday and Sunday open to the public. Attendees travel from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
The festival will feature more than 700 exhibitors and more than 40 other colleges and universities, including Penn State, the University of Maryland, Purdue, Carnegie-Mellon, Cornell, NC State, the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, the University of Massachusetts, American University and Texas A&M University.