Happenings: Austin Science and Engineering Festival

Texas State students lure future engineers with new technology

Jesse Clark tests Jonathan Park's eye tracker, which will be on display at the festival.

By Billi London-Gray

Texas State University’s Ingram School of Engineering is participating in the first-ever Austin Science and Engineering Festival this weekend at the Austin Convention Center. The Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists will host the festival in conjunction with the USA Science and Engineering Festival, which organizes concurrent events throughout the country.

The family-oriented festival aims to inspire young people to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) studies and careers.  The event lets Texas State reach out to potential students and raise awareness of exciting opportunities for undergraduates in the Ingram School of Engineering.
Texas State representatives, including engineering professor Dr. Larry Larson and student Jonathan Park, will speak with attendees about the university’s technology programs.

“We believe our strengths are our hands-on approach to engineering and our industrial-commercial mindset and approach,” says Larson in describing the Ingram School of Engineering. “Almost all of our classes have attached labs, where the students get to actually do what they have been lectured about. Also, our undergraduate involvement in research provides a great chance to actually participate, as an undergraduate, in real work.”

Park will be demonstrating one of his undergraduate technology projects at the festival. For his human computer interaction class this semester, he created an eye tracker, which he will ask festival visitors to test. The gadget allows users to operate a computer without moving a mouse or other input device and without vocal recognition software.

“The device uses a $20 web camera, some software developed by ITU-Copenhagen and a handful of electronic components. It allows the user to move the computer mouse with his eye,” Park says. “Currently systems that do this reliably can be quite expensive, several thousand dollars. The goal of research with this interface is to make systems that work reliably with relatively inexpensive components.”

As Park demonstrates the eye tracker at the festival, he will gather performance information to use as a base line for further improvements of the ITU-Copenhagen software. His demonstration at the Texas State exhibit will be one of over 100 science and engineering displays at the festival.

Other activities and exhibits at the festival will explore cinema special effects, alternative energy technology, and using technology like the Nintendo Wii and the iPhone to conduct scientific experiments and simulations. Visitors will also be able to “travel” with a virtual reality helmet, compete in solar car races and build candy catapults.

“The great thing about the festival is that it reaches the community as a whole,” festival director Enrique Gomez said in a press release. “Science and technology are indispensable tools for empowering people and should be supported with efforts that promote curiosity toward science and the intelligent use of technology.”

All activities will be held at the Austin Convention Center from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 23 and 24. Admission is free and open to all ages. For a complete schedule of events, visit the event website, www.austinsciencefestival.org.

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