FROSTBURG — It was a joust for the ages, as action figure Batman faced off against action figure Captain America. Zachery Tippen, Camryn DeWitt and John Schmidt gathered around to see how well the lances they built would work, and who would win.
On a mark, they pressed the buttons on the robots that carried the figures down the battlefield by following black tape on the table. Batman and Captain America were off and barreling toward each other.
The lances missed and it was back to the drawing board for the youngsters taking part in the Western Maryland STEM Festival at Frostburg State University Saturday morning, short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Held in the Lane University Center, the event featured STEM-focused arts and crafts for kids to take part in and learn from.
There was an augmented reality sandbox, model rockets to build and the National Society of Black Engineers showed kids a couple of ways to make slime from household products. David Puthoff, the biology department chair, had people guessing the names of common food plants based on their seeds and grass forms and much more.
The jousting booth where Tippen, DeWitt and Schmidt were gathered was set up by Robotics and Engineering in Allegany County — Together, or REACT, a nonprofit that focuses on providing robotics and STEM programming to students in kindergarten through grade 12.
“We’re trying to be the GEARS (Garrett Engineering and Robotics Society) of Allegany County,” said Mike Fiscus. “Our goal is to get all the public and private schools, K-12, great robotics programs.”
Already through REACT sponsors, said Fiscus, they’d managed to give robotics equipment to every public school in the county. The organization plans to hold an event with 20 robotics teams competing Jan. 11 in the FSU gymnasium.
REACT is also involved in the FIRST LEGO League, where teams from all over the globe take part in regional, national and international competitions. Seasons run something like August to April, said Fiscus. At events, kids are sometimes tasked with programing autonomous robots to move around four foot by eight foot boards in order to complete missions.
“I like it. I’m building a lance,” said Tippen, who is a member of the Flintstone robotics team.
“It’s one of these things that is much harder than they think it is,” said Christina Tippen, Zachery’s mother, who brought all three of the kids to the festival because they live close to one another and are all on a swim team together.
Even Todd Shipway, Flintstone robotics head coach, and Fiscus felt like they might need to get in on the action.
“He and I might go at it later in the afternoon,” said Fiscus.
As an engineer, the onus was on Shipway to win. When asked if it would be a bad look for him to lose he said, “exactly.”
Elsewhere in the Alice R. Manicur Assembly Hall, Taylor Corley, a FSU senior elementary education major, sat at a table filled with multi-colored straws of various shapes and sizes. Her goal was to teach kids how to make straw rockets by getting them to glue a paper dot to the pinched top of a short, wide straw. That straw would then be placed over a skinnier, longer straw, where it would be promptly blown as far as possible.
“They have to figure out what angle to use to get the rocket to go the farthest,” said Corley, who did the straw demonstration in a class and decided to volunteer to do it at the STEM festival. “Mine went pretty high.”
To Corley’s left, Joe Hoffman, a professor emeritus of physics and dean of liberal arts and sciences at Frostburg State, had set up a couple of Van de Graaff generators — metal, sphere-like objects that produce electrostatic energy via a moving belt, and that have a tendency to make hair stand up.
When placed close to one another, the running generator will build up enough electrostatic energy that it will transmit a charge that presents as a visible bolt of electricity. The Van de Graaff generators used at the festival only put out a couple 100,000 volts, said Hoffman, as the big ones used in science experiments venture into the millions and are used to accelerate particles.
“What are you doing?” said Jasper Brinkman, Hoffman’s grandson.
“I’m making lightning,” said Hoffman.
Brinkman touched the ball to make his hair stand up, but got a little zap from it and decided he was ready to move to a different booth.
“I got zapped right on the nose,” he said.
The Getz family also ventured over to the Van de Graaff generators to see what all the commotion was about. Kristen Getz said she saw the event posted on Facebook and decided it would be fun to bring her two kids, Crosby and Maxwell.
“He’s a little bit younger than a lot of them,” said Getz of Crosby, who was busy playing with the electrostatic machine. “It’s nice to have things like this to do during the winter when it’s cold out.”
As for Crosby, his favorite part, by far, was the sand, he said.
On Thursday, the University of Maryland Center of Environmental Science Appalachian Lab was supposed to hold an after-hours event for people to see some of the neat things going on at the center, however, it had to cancel.
Instead, the Appalachian Lab had a booth at the festival Saturday, which just so happened to be the day after National STEM day. At the lab’s booth, kids could do colorable crafts with depictions of the water cycle and bats.
“We’re hoping for a good turnout,” said Rhonda Schwinabart, coordinator for external affairs. “A lot of the information is to let people know a little bit more about the research that goes on.”
They are thinking about holding an event sometime in May or June, said Schwinabart, because “we want to do something so the people that signed up can get the experience they were hoping for.”
Follow staff writer Brandon Glass on Twitter @Bglass13.