With a combination of science, math and creativity, anything is possible, guest scientist Hunter Lloyd told an audience Friday evening at Montana State University Billings’ Petro Theatre.
The award-winning professor of robotics and his robot, Looney, took the stage at 5 p.m., kicking off the 25th annual Billings Clinic Research Center’s Science Expo.
He presented a problem to the crowd of hundreds of aspiring scientists and science enthusiasts that he must solve: His wife asked him to shovel the driveway and hang Christmas lights in a matter of 30 minutes. Each task, he estimated, would take 30 minutes. The real problem was that a football game he wanted to watch started in 30 minutes.
“What should I do?” he asked the crowd.
The solution was simple. “Hire a robot,” kids shouted. They answered correctly.
The focus of this year's expo is "Rise of the Robots.” As a guest speaker, Lloyd and his robots demonstrate that anything is possible.
Lloyd, a professor at Montana State University in Bozeman, and his students claimed high honors along with their Montana MULE robot that outperformed robots from Carnegie Mellon and Harvard to capture the 2010 NASA Robotics Championship.
“I like to think we won because we Montana kids know how to use duct tape,” Lloyd joked. Lloyd combines his skills as a robotics engineer with comedy to inspire young people to follow their dreams in math and science.
The Billings Clinic Research Center’s Science Expo 2013 runs this weekend at Montana State University Billings’ Alterowitz Gymnasium and will feature 463 first- through-12th-grade students from 30 schools showcasing 403 science projects.
The expo is the largest Intel International Science and Engineering (ISEF)-affiliated fair in the state, providing a venue to educate youth about scientific careers and encourage scientific interest, said Marietta Reviczky-Dolan, the expo’s coordinator.
“Science, math, technology and engineering are such important aspects of the educational system,” Reviczky-Dolan said. “These fields are their future careers, and this experience helps build a solid foundation for their futures.”
Central High School students Libby Harris, Becca Shipp and Elliot Hagan, all 11th-graders, put their science skills to the test this year as they explored whether low levels of chemicals leaked by hydraulic fracturing have harmful effects on organisms. The group used segmented worms for their research and found that a low level of methanol was harmful to the regeneration of stem cells.
“We suspected this would be the outcome, but we didn’t think it would be as drastic as it is,” Harris said Friday.
The students’ biology teacher, Dr. Deb Wines, said her only requirement with her students’ projects was that they would answer a question relevant to the “real world.”
“This project is really timely and compelling,” Wines said. “We need our students to be active in real science. They are learning skills that will prepare them for their future.”
The awards ceremony for science projects will be held Saturday beginning at 3 p.m. at the Lincoln Center Auditorium, 415 N. 30th St.
More than $20,000 in prizes will be awarded. Projects are primarily judged on how well students use and understand the scientific method along with their creativity, craftsmanship and artistic merit.
The winning individual or team in the high school division will advance with an all-expenses-paid trip to compete at Intel ISEF 2013 taking place in May in Phoenix.
The top 10 percent of projects in grades six through eight will be nominated to further competition at the Society for Science & the Public Broadcom MASTERS competition.
“This event is great practice for the younger students for when they become eligible to compete at national and international levels,” Reviczky-Dolan said.
In addition to the science fair, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Physical Education Building, 20 local organizations will showcase interactive exhibits of the most advanced science.
The public is also invited to two showings of the chemistry magic show in the MSUB library, Room 148. The first show is from 11 a.m. to noon. The second is from 1 to 2 p.m.
Science exhibits are on display from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the lower gym.