WATERLOO — Allisson Torres is a little wisp of a girl, but that didn’t stop the 7-year-old from accepting the firefighter’s challenge.
Waterloo Fire Rescue brought a rescue sled to the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center on Thursday as part of the Cedar Valley Family STEM Festival. Attendees were challenged to grab a rope attached to the sled and pull a firefighter across the floor.
The Waterloo girl planted her feet and yanked hard on the rope. The sled didn’t budge.
“I wondered if I couldn’t pull him,” she said afterwards. “But the other one was easier.” The other rope was part of a pulley system that made it much simpler for Torres to haul the firefighter a few feet.
“We’d use this if we had to pull someone out of a hole or out of a ditch,” said Barry Petersen, a lieutenant with the department.
It was one example of science, technology, engineering and math in action at the fourth annual STEM festival. More than 70 exhibits and hands-on activities were offered on both floors of the center. Businesses, organizations, area colleges and universities and about 20 schools offered booths.
People could grip the steering wheel of a driving simulator, learn how rockets work, get up close to bugs or hamsters, tap on a laptop to create computer code, build a gumdrop and toothpick structure, conduct chemistry experiments, catapult marshmallows and much more.
Liam Hanlin operated the bucket of a miniature excavator using joystick controls at a John Deere booth. It took a few tries to get the hang of it, but eventually the Waterloo 5-year-old figured out how to scoop up field corn kernels from one bin, swing the arm around and deposit them in another bin. He was there with his mom and 9-year-old brother, Login Hanlin.
This was Login’s second time at the event. “I’m a big science guy. I like science,” he said, referencing a model volcano experiment his class did at school that involved mixing two substances to create a foaming reaction.
Robotics was an emphasis of the event. The robots ranged from small easily operated devices to much larger machines whose creators spend many hours building and programming them.
Jasper Dewolf was drawn to the robot used by the Waterloo Police Department’s bomb squad. A police officer handed the Waterloo 9-year-old a control panel covered with switches and knobs that is big enough to be secured with a strap around his neck. The boy extended an arm with heavy-duty pinchers to a small football and picked it up. He drove the robot to a nearby five-gallon bucket, positioned the arm above it and dropped the ball in.
“It’s fun to turn the knobs,” he said afterwards. “I’m surprised that it didn’t have wires. I think it’s cool how the gears turn and that makes the wheels turn.”
He’s interested in learning more about and experimenting with a robot like the one the police use. “That would be fun to mess with,” said Dewolf.
Cash Ryan, 7, of Waterloo also admitted to liking the robots. He and his mom, Abby, who were first-time attendees, were learning a lot at the festival.
“I just think it’s important to show them all kinds of learning. As a parent, I’ve struggled with ‘new math,’” she said, referring to the different approach teachers use now compared her days in school.
“There’s a lot of literature, there’s a lot resources” at the festival, said Ryan. “So, yeah, it’s been very beneficial.”