Adelaide Rhodes crawled through a colorful play tunnel that simulated the human outer ear — complete with a sheet of bubble wrap covering the tunnel's end like ear wax.
The 3½-year-old Davenport girl may not have understood the scientific nature of "The Ear Experience" exhibit Saturday at Bettendorf Science Expo 2016, but she exclaimed "That was fun!" as she went back to crawl through again and again.
"She loves science," her father, Andrew Rhodes, said as he tried to get her to go see another exhibit. "I'm not worried about her (not having an interest) at all."
Building that excitement and interest in science was the quest of the Science Expo, which transformed Bettendorf Middle School's classrooms into more than 50 interactive science experiments and activities. With more than 250 volunteers — some in the fields of science and education, the event introduces elementary and middle school students to science-related fields.
"We want kids to find out about science, how cool it is and what you can do with it when you grow up," said Betsy Romano, one of the two co-founders of the expo. She and friend Wendy Haffarnan, a self-proclaimed "science nerd" and former genetics researcher, launched the event 10 years ago.
The expo has grown from a small PTA event at Paul Norton School to one that draws as many as 600 children a year. For the past seven years, it also has had support from the Bettendorf School District and the Bettendorf Community Schools Foundation.
More than 900 people attended Saturday's event, organizers said
"Everywhere we go we're constantly recruiting (new exhibitors)," Haffarnan said, adding they have picked up volunteers, speakers and exhibits from other shows such as Bald Eagle Days. "The DNA exhibit is something my husband Bob saw at the National Boy Scout Jamboree."
The DNA Extraction exhibit was one of the many experiments and exercises where kids got to have a truly hands-on experience. Assisted by volunteers, young children extracted their own DNA from their mouths. "They go away with a clump of DNA put in a plastic necklace,'' said Bonnie Smith, a retired microbiologist volunteering at the station.
Topics also included forensics, cockroaches, black lights, 3D printing, hips and knees, water quality, robotics, chemistry and more.
Dr. Molly Parker, of Parker Audiology, Davenport, who was in her fourth year at the expo with "The Ear Experience," hoped kids of all ages left with an understanding of the ear's anatomy. "The kids ask great questions ... the depth of their questions, even at the very young ages, is very neat," she said.
Julie Johnson, of Palmer College of Chiropractic, was on hand with Bettendorf High School science students who the Davenport college works with. They were demonstrating a model that the high school students built from PVC pipe and a bowling ball that shows the problems with forward head posture. She added that research is finding such posture is creating problems especially for those who spend excessive amounts of time looking down at cellphones and other technology devices.
But there also was just a lot of plain fun for children such as 6-year-old Isabella Wainwright, of Bettendorf. She spoke excitedly after riding a small Hovercraft across the gymnasium floor. Asked how it worked, she knew someone used a remote control to steer it and that air from the fan helped "it float." But mostly she said "It was super fun."
Isabella was joined by her sister, Sophia, 7; her mom, Chelo Wainwright; and the girls' cousin, Liala Moore, 6, who wore fake pink glasses "so she looks smarter," Chelo Wainwright said. "They love it. I don't think we're going to have to push (science) on them."
Chris Like, who taught physics at Bettendorf High School for 15 years before becoming the district's STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) coordinator, has volunteered with the expo since the beginning. "This adds to what we do in the classroom. It keeps the awareness up," he said. "It's creating an excitement for science, that is what we really want."