From the Hands and Minds of Our Volunteers

IEEE President Moshe Kam talks about a group of volunteers' work on a special science exhibit

7 June 2011
keller Photo: Kelly & Massa Photography

Espacio Ciencia is an attractive and well-maintained science and technology museum in Montevideo, Uruguay. It features traditional exhibits about Earth, the solar system, electrical and magnetic forces, and optics and perception. I visited the museum last year to unveil an exhibit developed by volunteers of the IEEE Uruguay Section.

The exhibit, E-Scientia, is directed toward preuniversity students through age 16 who have an interest in science. E-Scientia is a mock space station that "takes off" for 30- or 60-minute space tours several times a day, crewed by 8 to 10 student "astronauts," local IEEE volunteers, and museum staff. Prior to the students' becoming crew members, IEEE volunteers teach them the fundamentals of electronics, electricity, magnets, motors, and other topics.

capsule The E-Scientia exhibit "capsule" helps students get into the spirit of their tasks during their brief "space flight." Photo: Salo Imagenes

capsule "Space traveling" students in the E-Scientia exhibit use circuit components and devices to build hardware solutions to problems relating to energy, monitoring and detection, environmental sensing, communication, and biomedical measurements. Photo: Salo Imagenes

Various adventures befall the space travelers during their journey, compelling the young people to build FM receivers and transmitters in a hurry, repair electrical networks, install solar panels, and write programs to recalculate the station's orbit. They complete the tasks with guidance from the adults as well as from five interactive stations on board that deal with different aspects of electrotechnology: communications, energy, propulsion, defense, and biomedicine.

Once they "return" to Montevideo, the astronauts know much more about electrical engineering, engineering design, programming, and computing.

The magnificent and original exhibit is the brainchild of a small, dedicated group of volunteers. They identified a problem, namely a lack of opportunities for young people to experience electrical and computer engineering hands-on while still in middle or high school. They then got to work on a solution and submitted a proposal to the IEEE New Initiatives Committee, which provides seed grants to help launch projects that have the potential to further the mission of IEEE. In addition to help from the committee, the IEEE volunteers drew on the assistance of local companies and universities and devoted hundreds of hours to developing and implementing their solution. Working long evenings and weekends, they created the whole show in less than a year from the first discussion of the concept.

E-Scientia is an example of what IEEE volunteers can do—it's a representative activity of what we observe in multiple IEEE sections around the globe. The volunteers recognize important challenges in their communities, devise original solutions, and use IEEE resources and staff to succeed. As is the case with E-Scientia, the results are often inspiring.

As of now, E-Scientia is a one-of-a-kind exhibit. But the IEEE Foundation recently announced funding for a second "station" to be installed in a science and technology museum in Hyderabad, India. And a conference planned for July in Montevideo will explore additions to the original design that aim to enrich the participant experience. Look for an E-Scientia exhibit in a museum near you, or make it happen faster by becoming part of the E-Scientia network. Write to me ( if you want to join.

keller Moshe Kam
IEEE President and CEO


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