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Virginia Tech’s F.C. Campus Hosts Makers Festival

Junbo Zhao, a PhD candidate in electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech, shows his fellow students, (l to r) Kaveh B. Kelarestaghi, Shalini Sankaranarayanan, Amal Chacko and Harshala Sardar one of the many 3D printing projects that can be executed in Virginia Tech’s Maker Lab. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)
Junbo Zhao, a PhD candidate in electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech, shows his fellow students, (l to r) Kaveh B. Kelarestaghi, Shalini Sankaranarayanan, Amal Chacko and Harshala Sardar one of the many 3D printing projects that can be executed in Virginia Tech’s Maker Lab. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)

Residents of the region can write with soy ink, make a lava lamp and get licensed to drive a robot at the Makers Festival on Saturday, Sept. 26 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church.

Virginia Tech’s Falls Church campus is hosting the free festival as part of the statewide Virginia Science Festival, which starts on Saturday, Sept. 26 and lasts through Oct. 30.
There are science-related events happening all over the region throughout the next month, but the Makers Festival is probably the largest undertaking planned for the month-long Virginia Science Festival.

“We thought that it would be a great opportunity for Virginia Tech, since we have so many resources up here in the National Capital Region, that we share those resources with the local community in a meaningful way,” said Jennifer Carter, associate director of continuing and professional education at Virginia Tech.

“The only way that most people engage with Virginia Tech is through a degree-seeking opportunity and that limits us to engaging with one age group who’s looking for graduate school.”
Lise Visser, assistant to the associate dean and director of Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center, said that that they expansive resources and research interests to share with the surrounding community.

“There’s a wide number of activities involved in the Makers Festival, from circuit making and robotics to motion science. There’s even a cup positioning system thing to build for young makers,” Visser said. “And the Maker Lab will be open for 3D printing and projects that are readily available for execution will be executed there in that lab.”

Carter said that this type of event, which aims to present the public with popular and practical applications of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines, has been successful at Tech’s main campus in Blacksburg and Southwest Virginia. And last year, a slightly-smaller version of the Makers Festival was put on in Loudoun County.

“So we decided to extend the event to Falls Church in the hopes that we could engage the Falls Church community and surrounding communities with meaningful engagement through hands on activities and experiential learning,” Carter said.

Carter said that this type of learning is important because it immerses people in the concepts they are learning about and takes them out of the traditional classroom setting, where it’s more difficult to engage students.

The Makers Festival, which will feature a slate of activities that harken back to the Nickelodeon show “Mr. Wizard’s World,” is aimed particularly at children.

Zhao shows his fellow students some of the products of the school’s 3D printers.  (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)
Zhao shows his fellow students some of the products of the school’s 3D printers. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)

“I think what we have to do for kids is make science tangible. Make them understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” Carter said. “Obviously we want them to have fun, but we also want them to learn something at the same time so that they become problem solvers and good citizens.

“And I think the combination of creating that game environment where they’re completely engaged, they’re doing things with their hands versus just sitting there and being lectured to in a classroom, and they make something that they can take with them home, that is a good reminder of their day’s activities.”

Visser said that it’s important to bring “young makers in to do activities that they will build on for the rest of their lives.”

“They will have an opportunity to get excited and engaged by what’s going in science through these activities,” Visser said.

In addition to the Virginia Tech students and staff who will be volunteering at the event, George Mason High School students will be volunteering their time to the event.

Members of Mason’s FIRST Robotics will be at the event showcasing the 150-pound robot and teaching children how to drive a much smaller robot.

At the end of their robot driving lesson, they’ll get a robot driver’s license to “credential” them for such operations in the future.

One of the 3D printers in the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center’s Maker Lab prints out three-dimensional versions of the school’s logo. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)
One of the 3D printers in the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center’s Maker Lab prints out three-dimensional versions of the school’s logo. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)

“The kids can sign up and they can walk up and they get to drive the robot for a couple of minutes. They are taught how to do that, how to control it,” Carter said. “And once they have driven the robot they will be receiving a small robot drivers license that they can take home with them.”

Another of the activities that the festival goers can do at the Makers Festival is create ice cream.

For that, “students are given a number of ingredients and they learn how, by putting together these different ingredients in certain way then shake up the ingredients, to actually turn that into ice cream,” Carter said.

The layout of the festival will be similiar to a science fair, with different activities stationed at different tables and booths.

Festival goers will be given a Makers Festival “passport” and once they complete an activity they will get a stamp in their passport.

Other activities that festival goers can partake in include LED painting, t-shirt and paper making and smoothie wars.

Visser said that preparations for the event started at least two weeks in advance and will continue through to the event.

Virginia Tech has also partnered with other locally-based organizations like Virginia Science Olympiad, STEM Kids and TechShop for the event.

“We’re really trying to embed ourselves in the community in a more meaningful way,” Carter said.