By Will Parson
Students from all over San Diego converged on a cross-section of the region's innovators at the San Diego Science Alliance High Tech Fair held on March 10 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
The fair featured more than 50 companies on the cutting edge in fields such as aerospace, biotechnology, conservation and robotics. More than 2,500 students attended, at one point pushing shoulder to shoulder inside the fairgrounds' Wyland Hall.
"We've had more students than ever before," said event chair Tom Trott. The 13th annual event was preceded for the first time by a student/parent night on March 9, which was open to the public.
The fair was organized into sections including conservation, biotechnology, healthcare, engineering, robotics, telecommunications and clean technology. Loud explosions occasionally punctuated the chatter as exhibitors offered middle school and high school students the chance to learn what a career in technology entails.
Many booths demonstrated the fundamental scientific principles that often form the basis of advanced research and development.
Such an exhibitor was Rick Lee from General Atomics Energy Group, who started students off with a simple demonstration of magnets before using one to explosively crush an aluminum can and ended his demonstration by using a magnet to manipulate a charged plasma, the fundamental process behind his company's work in magnetic fusion energy.
Elsewhere, bomb-defusing robots roamed the floor near the SPAWAR booth, while nearby NAVAIR provided a hair-raising experience with a Van De Graaff generator. On the other side of the exhibition hall, Sewer Science demonstrated a natural water filter and Scripps Birch Aquarium explained the importance of conserved marine habitats.
More than one booth let students power light bulbs with a bicycle generator, and Hewlett Packard used paintball guns to demonstrate the technology behind inkjet printers.
Because of the hands-on approach, many of the experts found that the advanced technology did not limit the positive response from the students.
"A lot of kids are really interested in what we're doing and the science behind it," said Philip Monzon from biotech company Genentech. "(They've asked) really good questions for their age group. I was surprised. I know at that age I didn't know any of that stuff."
Sometimes the students' curiosity seemed limitless.
Janessa Goodheart, a SPAWAR representative who used a vibrating string to demonstrate wave resonance, said that not only was she peppered with questions, but that, "Sometimes I don't know the answers."