Because of COVID-19, STEPCon, a conference focused on STEM education and careers, could not be a live event this year. For the last seven years, Bourns has been honored to host the event at the Bourns Technology Center in Riverside. Students and educators were undaunted and decided to hold this valuable science conference online. With the backdrop of The National Fusion Research Facility, STEPCon20 attracted more than 15,000 students and teachers, compared to the approximately 5,000 that attended in person in previous years. Bourns CEO Gordon Bourns is a key advocate and sponsor of the conference.
This year STEPCon20 was broadcast live from the National Fusion Research Facility at General Atomics. Veteran STEPCon hosts, Rick Lee and Alex Nagy, focused their entire 48-minute Science Show on nuclear fusion. They began by talking about the four states of matter – solids, liquids, gases and plasmas, with plasma being literally at the heart of the fusion reaction. They showed students how pouring liquid nitrogen into a container of water creates a reaction that produces three of the states of matter, solid ice, liquid water and nitrogen as well as gaseous nitrogen.
Rick and Alex then went to their Magnetics Lab to demonstrate properties of permanent magnets and electromagnets. One of the properties is eddy currents of electricity in conductors. These forces generated are powerful enough to levitate high-speed trains above their track, and even strong enough to crush and shoot aluminum cans up to the roof of the lab.
The virtual tour also involved Rick and Alex’s Plasma Lab where they demonstrated how magnetic fields can bend electron beams or move plasmas around, which are key to the operations of their magnetic confinement fusion reactor. These demonstrations are available to view on-demand at the STEP YouTube Channel using the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93rCU8NQ81k
Part of the STEPCon20 conference featured 32 online exhibitor booths. Bourns participated as well as the U.S. Navy base near Riverside, UC Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT), California Baptist University and Garner Holt Productions, which creates animatronics for theme parks including Disneyland – they made everything that moves in the Radiator Springs Racers ride in Cars Land at Disneyland.
STEPCon20 also included Educator STEPCon20 on Wednesday, October 7, which was attended online by 250 educators, some of whom were outside of Southern California.
A particular highlight of the conference was the student keynote speakers. You can watch on YouTube the inspirational presentations by Mariah Kannike and Jennifer Cruz who both spoke about the importance of STEM education in their lives and how it has influenced their career plans: