iCER @ MSU’s 2017 Science Festival

Many pre-college students use computers in their daily lives but very few actually understand how computers work. Fewer still have the opportunity to see a supercomputer. The “Adventures in Parallel Land” tours introduce students to the role of supercomputers in making scientific discoveries and gives them an opportunity to connect abstract ideas about how computers work with the actual physical, electrical, mechanical -- hardware components.

This year over 300 middle and elementary school students, teachers and parents participated in iCER’s presentation at the MSU Science Festival public and schools program. Students toured MSU’s supercomputer, opened hard drives, dismantled a node, used 3-d glasses to view a cross-section of a CPU chip, sent binary messages using poker chips and viewed an iCER original cartoon about how parallel computing works.

Attendees, as usual, were impressed by the power and size of the supercomputer but it was especially rewarding to see students who are at first timid to touch the hardware on display become engaged in taking the hardware apart and asking questions. Teachers attending with their classes especially like the hands-on activities. Undergraduates enjoy volunteering at this event and are energized by the enthusiasm displayed by students – who will come back to our station again and again either to work on a hard drive or take a second look at the video.

The staff at iCER work together each year to make this event successful. Our goal is to foster students’ interest in and awareness of the role of computing in enabling science and discovery. We hope that students themselves will also experience a few “aha” moments along the way. Nevertheless, if the only student gains from this experience are the freedom to tinker with computers and ask questions, I think we'd chalk this event up as a pretty successful!

Please visit iCER K-12 page to view other upcoming events.


Article by Camille Archer 
Photo credit: Casey Cavanaugh, Xiaoxing (Adele) Han