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Engineering engineers at Science Zone

Science Zone allows kids to engineer Tech City

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Two semi-trucks backed up to the doors of the Science Zone recently and the hustle-bustle of setting up a new exhibit ensued.

Volunteers started unloading.

One went here. One went there.

One went when he should have waited. One didn't get the signal to open the doors on time.

Traffic jam.

As the trucks emptied, the Science Zone began to look like the Tasmanian Devil's playroom, parts here and parts there. Tech City needed to be built. It needed its bridges, water systems and roads. It needed to be stable, look nice and cost little. It, like all cities, needed an engineer. Actually it needed several engineers.

And that's kind of the point with this exhibit.

"Engineering is all around us. It's in our bridges, our traffic lights, the way water flows," said Michelle Long, a Science Zone employee. "We want to open people's eyes to the engineering that surrounds them."

The Tech City exhibit was designed and built by Sciencenter in New York. It presents engineering as a problem-solving process and encourages youth, especially young women and those from minority groups, to consider a career in engineering. Twelve different stations with 20 hands-on activities, multimedia computers and videos will have visitors donning their thinking caps - and their pocket protectors - to design, build, test and modify their way through real-world problems.

Remember that traffic jam during set-up? It needed an engineer to optimize traffic routes. Maybe one will emerge after he or she masters the traffic jam station.

And perhaps more will be born when kids become the ones who make Tech City work.

When a river threatens to flood Tech City, a team of civil engineers must build a gravity dam to stop its flow.

When the City Park equipment sways in the wind, an engineer must use the air-flow visualization system to design a protective landscaping environment. (Then, pitch the idea to Casper's engineers!)

And when Tech City's citizens just want to kick back and relax to some good tunes, a sound engineer will make it happen in the sound studio.

"Everything you touch has had some sort of engineer involved with it at some point in time," said Shawn Gustafson, one of the owners of WLC Engineering, Surveying and Planning in Casper. His company helped sponsor the Tech City exhibit because it wants kids to notice all the engineering in the world around them.

The exhibit originally began as a project for a Cornell University student who wanted to design and build a bridge. An engineer liked the idea so much, he suggested it would make a great exhibit for the Sciencenter. The National Science Foundation issued a grant and Tech City was created with the help of hundreds of volunteers.

In much the same way, Casper's educational and engineering communities helped bring the exhibit to Wyoming. The Board of Cooperative Education Services, which funds programs that are mutually beneficial for Casper College and the Natrona County School District, gave the Science Zone a grant to fund the exhibit. Several local engineers and construction companies sponsored it.

"Exhibits like this and places like the Science Zone get students interested in science at an early age and recruits them for us," said Jason Eggemeyer, a Casper College professor and vice president of the Science Zone board. "The U.S. has a deficit of engineering graduates, and, holistically, that's why this exhibit is really important."

Kathy Krafft, a New York physicist by trade who helped design, build, test and promote Tech City, hopes the exhibit will encourage girls to see themselves as engineers, to realize the field is not just for white males with pocket protectors.

"We refer to engineers as the e-word because people don't know what they do," she said. "We don't expect everybody to walk away from here being an engineer, but we do want them to walk away being comfortable with engineers and what they do."

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