Happiness Is STEM Outreach at the Iowa State Fair

4-H'ers guide fair visitors through a biochar experimentAMES, Iowa — Iowa NSF EPSCoR helped heighten awareness of energy topics at this year’s Iowa State Fair. The project contributed to several science, technology, engineering and math activities — known as STEM — giving kids hands-on experience with the carbon cycle, biorenewables, solar cars and wind energy.

Iowa NSF EPSCoR is Iowa’s National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. EPSCoR is aimed at building research capacity and increasing competitiveness for the state of Iowa through investments in infrastructure and human capital.

On Friday and Saturday, Aug. 16-17, Iowa NSF EPSCoR External Engagement partnered with CenUSA, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and 4-H Youth Development to create an exhibit featuring the carbon cycle and biorenewables at the Iowa State Fair.  “We thought the exhibit was quite successful, thanks to strategic location of the exhibit booth, interesting and informative displays, hard work of volunteers and kids' curiosity,” said exhibit coordinator Jyahao Leong.

The exhibit, located in the Bruce L. Rastetter 4-H Exhibits Building, included an iPad educational game about carbon, a C6 character photo opportunity, carbon cycle posters and biochar hands-on experiments. More than 200 students played the educational game on the bank of iPad minis, and even more got their hands dirty with biochar experiments.

Learning about Solar Cars and Wind Energy

kids learn about wind energy

On Saturday, Aug. 10, Friday, Aug. 16, and Sunday, Aug. 18, Pat Higby, Iowa NSF EPSCoR broader impacts member, was busy providing material for STEM exhibits as well. On Saturday at the 4-H building she estimated 500 students and 500 adults came through the STEM booth. “They were busy making solar cars and learning about wind energy,” she said.

Lisa Chizek, North Tama fifth and sixth grade science teacher, used Higby’s materials again on Friday at the 4-H building as part of the North Central STEM Hub Festival. Sunday, the Boy Scouts used Higby’s solar car activity. Meanwhile, Higby and her students managed the energy bike activity at the University of Northern Iowa booth and wind power activities at the Fabulous Resources for Energy Education area. She estimated that 400 students and 200 adults used the materials just on Sunday.

Activities at the fair were held as part of Gov. Terry Branstad’s STEM Advisory Council’s “STEM at the Iowa State Fair” event.



  • Upper photo: 4-Hers guide fair visitors through a biochar experiment.
  • Lower photo: Kids learn about wind energy through hands-on activities.