Tuesday, March 06, 2012
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Naturally Illinois Expo at U of I Friday and Saturday

Expo offers hands-on science fun and learning for all ages

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[March 06, 2012]  CHAMPAIGN -- The fourth annual Naturally Illinois Expo at the University of Illinois will feature more than 50 exhibits, demonstrations and hands-on science activities for the public, teachers and students of all ages. The expo at the end of this week provides an opportunity to talk with scientists who work on solutions to water, energy, climate, ecosystem, technology and cultural resource issues.

The expo is presented by the staff of the Prairie Research Institute, home of the Illinois Scientific Surveys, to show the public the wide variety of research they conduct to benefit the state.

"The expo is an exceptional effort by our scientists and staff to help everyone better understand the institute's work and the role science plays in our daily lives," said William Shilts, Ph.D., executive director of the Prairie Research Institute. "We also see thousands of students at the expo, and one of our goals is to inspire and encourage them to explore natural and cultural resource science careers."

"We're very excited each year to open our doors and invite the public to see what we do," said the expo chairman, Eric Plankell, of the Illinois State Geological Survey. "More than 250 volunteers, including U of I students, help put on the expo. We hope to top the 3,000 visitors we had in 2011."

New to the expo this year, scientists in the "Waste to Oil" exhibit will turn waste into energy through pyrolysis, a heat process that decomposes organic material in the absence of oxygen. They will demonstrate how wastes such as plastic, used tires, fryer oil, trap grease and soap stock, as well as biomass such as corn stover and algae can be converted to biofuels and bio-crude oils. This process has the potential to combat the problem of thousands of pounds of wastes generated annually in the U.S. and to provide additional sources of renewable energy.

Other new exhibits include:

  • "Live! Honey Bees," featuring a queen bee and her workers on a honeycomb frame behind glass.

  • "Exploring the Mahomet Valley in 3D," showing how geologists fly high above the ground and dive below the surface using new software to analyze and map the deposits that filled the Mahomet Bedrock Valley.

  • "Zooarchaeology: Animal Bones of Illinois," featuring animal remains and bone and shell tools that help us learn about people and their environment hundreds and thousands of years ago.

The ever-popular "Kids' Fossil Dig," "The Mystery of Mussels," "Weather on Your Birthday" and many more exhibits will be back or debut at the expo this year.

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To support school and community youth groups that do not have travel funds available to attend the expo, the institute has $3,000 in bus scholarships available, based on need. The funds are a result of a grant to the Prairie Research Institute from the UI Office of Public Engagement. To inquire about the scholarships or for group reservations, contact Eve Hargrave at eve.hargrave@gmail.com.

The expo is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.prairie.illinois.edu/expo. The event is volunteer-led and financed entirely through donations. To contribute or for a donor list, visit www.prairie.illinois.edu/expo/sponsors.shtml.

The Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois will host the Naturally Illinois Expo on Friday and Saturday at the Natural Resources Building and grounds, 607 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign. The two-day event will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.

The Prairie Research Institute, formerly the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability, is the home of the Illinois Scientific Surveys: Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois State Water Survey, Illinois State Geological Survey, Illinois State Archaeological Survey and Illinois Sustainable Technology Institute. For over 150 years, these entities have applied cutting-edge science for the people of Illinois, to build their economy, promote public health and safety, and steward their abundant resources.

[Text from file received from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]


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