Daily Egyptian

Innovation on display at Science and Technology Expo

By Kitt Fresa

Scientists and entrepreneurs from all over the country came to SIU’s Science and Technology Expo Sunday and Monday to share their innovative inventions with visitors, locals and students over eclipse weekend.

The expo was held in the SIU Arena and featured 34 vendors and exhibits, as well as various presentations about new technology.

“A lot of times kids and even professional engineers [are] stuck in boxes,” said Dav Glass, one of the inventors at the expo.

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Glass is the creator of HackSI, an annual “hackathon” event held on campus in which participants get 24 hours to build anything they want. Glass said all the hardware, drones and any other tools necessary are provided to those in attendance, whose ages can range from seven to 70.

“At school they’re told to do exactly this, at work they have this list of stuff to do,” Glass said. “Here you just build whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want.”

At another exhibit, Kathleen Fredette, the director of STEAM Initiatives — which stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math — showcased the SOFIA.

Brian Phillips, of Carbondale, explains the workings of a hydroponic growing system Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, at the science, astronomy and technology expo in the SIU Arena. “There are so many factors that make new ways of growing a necessity,” Phillips said. “I want to introduce new growing techniques to existing farmers.” (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

The SOFIA is a Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, which Fredette described as a “flying observatory.”

The observatory is made from a “tricked out” 747SP plane that was gutted and reengineered to have a large garage-like door on the side, Fredette said. It features a 10-foot infrared telescope, and is designed to fly into the stratosphere.

Fredette said it’s meant to study planetary atmospheres, comets and stars. When the aircraft reaches between 38,000 and 44,000 feet, the garage-like door opens up.

“What’s amazing is you can’t even feel it when you’re in the aircraft,” Fredette said.

A replica of the SOFIA project is presented Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, at the science astronomy and technology expo at SIU Arena. The SOFIA project is a modified 747 Short Body plane that has an infared telescope attached in order to follow space occulations. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

Astronomers can put in proposals at any time to use the telescope, she said.

“This is a national asset,” Fredette said. “It’s NASA — it belongs to us the people.”

Fredette said educators can also make proposals to use the aircraft by specifying how they’re going to take it back home and use it to teach their communities about astronomy.

Versaponic, a technology that allows consumers to grow plants in compact boxes that control lighting and water, was also on display at the expo.

“Whether it’s a tomato plant, a gardenia tree or an orchid, you can grow anything you want, anytime, any place,” said Brian Phillips, who patented and trademarked the system.

Natalie McGrane, 15, and Leah McGrane, 13, both of Carbondale, tinker with a lock box created by members of HackSI Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, during the science, astronomy and technology expo in the SIU Arena. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

This device stretches plants’ growing seasons to year-round, meaning cuttings can be taken from a tomato plant that would normally be outside for three months in the summer. The cuttings would then be taken inside for the winter to continue growing in the compact boxes.

Ideally, Phillips said the plant’s growing cycle would continue through all four seasons and the plant would never stop flourishing.

“One plant could become thousands over time,” Phillips said.

Brian Phillips, of Carbondale, explains the workings of a hydroponic growing system Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, at the science, astronomy and technology expo at SIU Arena. “There are so many factors that make new ways of growing a necessity,” Phillips said. “I want to introduce new growing techniques to exsisting farmers.” (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

Once placed in the box, the plant’s roots are exposed to water directly. A cover is placed over the box and lighting is directed onto the plant to mimic sunlight. Different versions of the boxes are available for different climates, Phillips said.

“I can’t believe there are people starving in the world when the technology has been around forever to do this,” Phillips said.

Staff writer Kitt Fresa can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @kittfresa.

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