Jazlyne Bodden, left, and Brooke Connor show off the solar bugs they created during the Minds Inspired activity at the STEM Conference held last month at the University College of the Cayman Islands.

The future is now and it involves solar-powered bugs. That was just one element of the eighth international STEM conference held last month at the University College of the Cayman Islands.

The three-day conference, which featured a local and international line-up of speakers, involved presentations and events focused on the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That's where the solar bugs came in.

Dart's Minds Inspired served as a platinum sponsor of the conference. Dart Senior Education Programmes Manager Glenda McTaggart said the event offered a good opportunity to educate and connect interested students with local programmes that revolve around the STEM fields. “I was delighted to see so many young attendees who are interested in STEM.”

McTaggart led more than 150 students through a hands-on learning activity that taught students how solar power can be converted to motion. Using materials provided by Minds Inspired, each student made their own solar bug complete with a miniature solar panel and a motor. When exposed to sunlight, the solar panel powered the motor, causing the bugs to move.

“The solar bugs project allowed the students to flex their creative muscles while also learning about clean energy, motion and vibration,” said McTaggart. 

Attendees heard about a variety of topics centered around the conference theme, “The future is now.” The keynote speaker, Don Marinelli, who co-founded the renowned Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center, spoke about the digital universe where young people are currently living due to modern technology, which allows them to experience physical, augmented, alternate and virtual realities. Speaker Bilita Mattes, the executive director of the STEM-UP Network that focuses on advancing women in STEM, reinforced the importance of STEM education in her presentation by explaining how more than 70 per cent of jobs in 2018 required some STEM skills. 

The Cayman Islands National Robotics Team members were also on hand to give a presentation to attendees. The team spoke about their preparations to participate on the world stage of robotics at the end of last month at the FIRST Global Challenge in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. 

These students qualified for the National Team following their participation in another Minds Inspired initiative, the “Rover Ruckus” FIRST Technical Challenge inter-school robotics tournament hosted by Minds Inspired earlier this year.