(MURFREESBORO) Rutherford County's STEM Expo has grown from 22 projects and displays to 92 last year and 164 this year. Wednesday night's STEM Expo was nearly eight times the size it was in 2017. This year's attendance figures exceeded expected growth by more than 30 percent.
In fact, this year's third annual expo, which drew 1,096 attendees, was relocated to the Tennessee Miller Coliseum. The 2019 attendance went from 690 last year and 137 the year before.
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
"The RCS STEM Expo has grown substantially over the past couple of years," said Stephanie Finely, the pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade science specialist for Rutherford County Schools.
"This amount of growth shows student interest in STEM and STEM-related careers is sky rocketing, which we owe to the passionate teachers we have working for Rutherford County Schools that positively influence and guide our students towards this pathway on a daily basis.
There were more than 80 engineering displays and more than 60 STEM research projects. There were also agriculture displays this year as well.
"I was so impressed by the caliber of the student projects," Finley said.
Anthony "Tony" Lamantia and Gabe Christian teamed up on a STEM Research project called "Mission: Callisto." They started their project four months ago, in November, in preparation for the Expo.
Their project is based on the growing population of the world, so they researched the viability of life on Callisto instead of the popular idea of Mars.
"I've always been interested in astronomy and program," said Christian, who combined the two ideas to program a rocket ship to go anywhere, "but, yeah, I've had an interest in astronomy for a while."
Lamantia first studied Callisto -- one of Jupiter's moons -- in third grade.
"It really stuck out to me because it was this really dark moon that had these bright white spots on it and I learned these are ice crystals," recalled Lamantia, who noted there is an ocean that lies underneath the surface.
"(Observers) think the planet is dead, but it's really not," Christian added.
Lamantia and Christian were among a small percentage of freshmen. A majority of the participants were either eighth-graders or high school seniors
Both said they plan to enter again next year.
"These young adults are going to change the world. I am just glad they are from Rutherford County."