STEMfestSTEMfest Draws All Ages for Hands-On Fun

A new Mini Maker Faire, the Haunted Physics Lab, sparking machines and robots are some of the highlights awaiting families at STEMfest on Oct. 27.

Dissecting cow eyeballs, maneuvering a robot and investigating a pretend crime scene are just a few of the hands-on activities that bring all ages back every year to STEMfest, one of Northern Illinois University’s most popular events.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, NIU departments, student groups, regional corporations, museums, educators and national labs will team up to offer more than 200 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities for the public at the NIU Convocation Center. In addition, books, T-shirts, electronic kits and other STEM-related items will be for sale.

The NIU Alumni Association has partnered with STEM Outreach so alumni can volunteer alongside students and departments and work at their favorite booth. Sign up at the STEMfest web page. Teachers can get professional development hours by submitting the teacher volunteer form.

New this year is the Mini Maker Faire, which will feature makers selling arts and crafts and demonstrating their skill or talent. Makers include artists, crafters, performers, engineers and scientists.  Alumni are invited to apply for a maker booth.

Admission is free, but a few booths will have nominal charges to cover the cost of supplies for hands-on projects that can be taken home.

“Everyone, whether they think they’re interested in STEM or not, should come at least once to see what all the excitement is about,” said Pati Sievert, director of STEM Outreach and NIU STEAM. “There are just so many cool ways that STEM is a part of our everyday life, and they can come and experience it all in a new way at STEMfest.”

Entering its ninth year, STEMfest draws huge crowds because of its interactive activities, such as the Haunted Physics Lab, art projects, chemistry demonstrations, engineering exhibits, the soldering station and author presentations. In the last three years, the event has drawn about 7,000 visitors annually.

The Haunted Physics Lab will include a coil that sings and shoots sparks, a transformer that demonstrates spark movement, an infinity mirror that seems to travel endlessly, glow-in-the dark activities and rainbow spectrum glasses that allow viewers to see different sets of color for objects.


The new Zot Artz room is expected to be a big hit. Adults and children will paint acrylic designs on floor media with poles that have a STEM-related stamp on the bottom. Attachments for people in wheelchairs will also be offered so designs can be rolled on. From 4 to 5 p.m., lights in the art room will be dimmed and sounds will be lowered to create a low-sensory environment.

Chemistry-related events include a demonstration with liquid nitrogen and a dry ice display that creates fog.

As part of the engineering booths, visitors will get to maneuver an underwater robot, design a LEGO town, build a suspension bridge and check out vehicles designed by engineering students, such as a vehicle that travels 1,700 miles per gallon.

The soldering station is another main attraction. Children enjoy soldering light-emitting diodes onto a plastic pin with an on/off switch and can take them home.

Among the presenters will be Mike Mullin, author of “Ashfall,” and Ruth Spiro, who has written the Baby Loves Science series to introduce children to science topics.

The event is geared for all ages of children, including high school students, who have the opportunity to learn about STEM fields from NIU students.

Virtually every STEM department on campus will be at STEMfest and nearly every college is represented, so it’s a prime time to see what programs NIU has to offer, Sievert said.

Interested in learning about volunteer opportunities at NIU? Fill out a brief form here. If you have questions, contact Liz McKee at or at 815-753-7400.