Duncan Cline, a 13-year-old boy from Mendocino County, once made a low-powered Taser out of the batteries and flash components from disposable cameras. Cline, who hopes to become an engineer, also has built a catapult and a hovercraft.
On Saturday, Cline participated tested his wits by seeing how many coin rolls he could support with a single 3 by 4 inch index card. The trick — or one of them — is folding the card into a rigid fan-like structure that could distribute the weight of the coins much like trusses in a bridge.
The exercise, sponsored by NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in Mountain View, was part of the Science Discovery Day held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
"I like to create and design things. I can visualize things in my head and from there I kind of tweak it," he said.
The event, held at the Hall of Flowers, showcased exhibits aimed at getting young minds excited about bio-science, engineering, technology, nature and other science-related fields.
The exhibits ranged from two huge sling shots modeled after the popular Angry Birds cell phone and tablet game, a giant remote-controlled robot that picked up a large air-filled red ball and dropped it on the heads of giddy kids' heads and a demonstration of how to make instant ice cream using liquid nitrogen.
The exhibitors were among the North Coast's leading technology and science companies, institutions and government agencies, including Agilent, JDSU, the Buck Institute, the Sonoma County Water Agency and Sonoma State University.
"If you want to be an exhibitor you've got to have a wow factor," said Carole Bennett, one of two main organizers of the event.
Bennett said the one-day science fair is the North Bay's segment of the Bay Area Science Festival, which began Oct. 20 and runs until Nov. 4. A larger "Discovery Days" festival is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 3, at AT&T Park.
Last year, the local science fair was held at Infineon Raceway and drew about 4,000 people. Bennett said she expected between 6,000 and 8,000 people to attend Saturday's event.
At one booth, JDSU's Santa Rosa-based optical technologies group showcased various applications for its cutting-edge thin-film technologies, including modern 3D movie glasses and a new mini-sized spectrophotometer that can instantly analyze the "light signatures" of chemical substances such as illegal drugs.
"In every one of these products we're using physics to manage light," said Dave Williams, manager of research and development for JDSU's security and applications team.
Williams said events like the science festival give kids the chance to see how science is applied to the real world. "This whole event is aimed at demonstrating what can be done with science," he said. "It's not just boring classroom stuff."
For the event, Raj Sodhi, a research and development electrical engineer for Agilent, designed two large sling shots modeled after the Angry Bird game. Sodhi also prepared a poster-board full of equations and schematics describing escape velocities and launch angles.
It was a chance for kids to apply the familiar physics of Angry Birds as they propelled rolls of toilet paper wrapped in duct tape at cardboard boxes across the room.
Agilent was one of the major sponsors of the invent. Others included the Buck Institute and Kaiser Permanente.