Gadgets, gizmos reign at Middle Tennessee STEM Exp...

Gadgets, gizmos reign at Middle Tennessee STEM Expo at MTSU

Thomas Jones is quite the budding entrepreneur. At 17, the Stratford STEM Magnet High School junior already has a contract with Microsoft for a game he created called Blanco: The Color of Adventure.

At the sixth annual Middle Tennessee STEM Expo, held April 11 in MTSU’s Student Union Ballroom, Johnson showed off his “Conceptual Forensic Retrieval System,” an educational tool for children.

Jones was among more than 600 students from across the Midstate,  including Clarksville, Brentwood, Franklin and Nashville, taking part in the expo that highlights science, technology, engineering, math — AKA STEM — and research. The expo showcases the fifth- through 12th-graders’ recent STEM projects.

Jack Lannom, 14, a Siegel Middle School eighth-grader, explains how a first attempt to create a baseball cleat with a project partner failed, but then they tried other methods. Their “Quick Feet Baseball Cleat” project was among 300 STEM ventures by fifth- through 12th-graders at the Middle Tennessee STEM Expo April 11 in the MTSU Student Union Ballroom. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

Jones said his latest gizmo “teaches basic concepts” in forensics at a crime scene, explaining that “it’s a ‘Clue’ kind of thing.”

On a monitor, he pointed out a sensor in the ceiling. Using a controller, he searched for blood. “It shows where it was found. It can collect DNA and tell you more about it.”

If he decided to make a change in his invention, Johnson said he’d adapt it for an older group.

Survivor helmet

Braden Cole, 11, a fifth-grader at Madison Creek Elementary School in Goodlettsville, Tenn., adjusts the binoculars to the “Survival Helmet” he and project partner Declan Deering created for the April 11 Middle Tennessee STEM Expo at MTSU in the Student Union Ballroom. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

Braden Cole and Declan Deering, both 11 and fifth-graders at Madison Creek Elementary School in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, devised a “Survivor Helmet” for people who get lost in the woods.

The helmet featured binoculars, a plastic shovel, portable charger, and a phone to use with GPS.

Stewarts Creek Middle School eighth-graders Abby Irwin, Olivia Marlow, Kristiana Heinz and Keaton Pyne spent six weeks collaborating on their “React-A-Button” project.

“We hope our product will cut down on reaction time and potentially save lives,” Marlow said of the their project, which had its origins in school shootings across the country.

All four appeared to ace questions presented by Dr. Joshua Phillips, an assistant professor in MTSU’s Department of Computer Science and one of many judges who volunteered with the event.

React-A-Button STEM project

Joshua Phillips, left, an MTSU computer science faculty member and judge for the Middle Tennessee STEM Expo, listens as Kristiana Heinz, second from right, answers a question about the React-A-Button device her group created. Other Stewarts Creek Middle School students include Abby Irwin, second from left, Olivia Marlow and Keaton Pyne. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

Kevin Salazar, 14, of Murfreesboro, a Whitworth-Buchanan Middle School eighth-grader, was pedaling a bicycle, hoping to generate electricity.

“It doesn’t have an inverter, so it cannot power the light bulb,” said Salazar, who was one of four team members.

“Pet Zoomer,” “The Quick Feet Baseball Cleat” and “Energy Drinks vs. Orange Juice” were just a sampling of other project titles.

Ginger Rowell, interim director of MTSU’s Tennessee STEM Education Center, oversaw the event and called the projects “amazing.”

“There were some really impressive engineering projects,” added Dr. Lei Miao, an engineering technology assistant professor. “This is a great event to promote to students and parents in STEM.”

The students received their awards and medals in Tucker Theatre before returning to their schools.

Housed at MTSU, the Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub encourages students to engage in projects involving a process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem or challenge. These rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice skills necessary for success in communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

For more information, call 615-904-8573.

MTSU has more than 240 combined undergraduate and graduate programs.

— Randy Weiler (

Middle TN STEM Expo crowd

Part of the large crowd attending the sixth annual Middle Tennessee STEM Expo April 11 visits the projects set up in MTSU’s Student Union Ballroom. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)