It’s the 41st Engineering EXPO

Gone are the days of the baking soda volcano. At a 21st century science fair it takes a Tesla coil to get everyone electrified.

By Janet Gillis

College of Engineering


TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 22, 2013) – If you’re of a certain age, the words science fair can summon images of boring poster presentations in the school gymnasium.  But the University of South Florida’s Engineering EXPO is not that kind of science fair. 

It’s a hands-on, interactive science fair on steroids. 

More than 20,000 school children, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, families and youth groups were expected to descend on campus Friday and Saturday at the College of Engineering for the  41st Engineering EXPO.  This year’s theme is “Technology through the Ages.”

The student-run Engineering EXPO is a two-day open house event that showcases the College of Engineering, USF academic departments, research labs from across campus, student organizations and exhibits from local engineering firms and companies such as TECO, Mosaic, Legoland and Raytheon. The primary goal is to introduce K-12 students to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and demonstrate how STEM is present in their everyday lives.

Gone are the days of the baking soda volcano. At a 21st century science fair it takes a Tesla coil to get everyone pumped up.  Remember the tornado in a soda bottle experiment – how about a fire tornado in the Engineering Auditorium. 

Photo by Ryan Wakefield | College of Engineering

Every year the stakes get higher for the coolest experiments.  Judging by the crowd’s reaction, X-Labs may have earned that honor this year with their energy experiments set to music.  Via video they demonstrated how seven pounds of thermite, a pyrotechnic composition of metal powder and metal oxide, can destroy a microwave while burning a hole straight into the ground.  Demonstrators gave the audience the obligatory warning: Don’t try this at home! 

The Tesla coil spewing lightning-like bolts of energy into the air sent the audience into a frenzy.

Perennial favorites such as the laser light show and the chemistry magic show are still drawing huge crowds.  While student flocked to all the exhibits, the ones drawing the largest crowds were in the categories of loudest and messiest, and anything that had a robot.

It takes six months of planning, 375 student volunteers and hundreds of engineering groups to stage Engineering  EXPO.  It’s said EXPO is the longest-running event on campus. 

There’s still plenty of time to bring the kids and grandkids and get up close and personal by participating in experiments.  If you didn’t make it Friday, Saturday is just as exciting.  EXPO is open Saturday, Feb. 23, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and parking if free in the Beard parking garage on Alumni Drive.