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TouchTomorrow Festival Returns to WPI June 13

Fourth Annual Event to Feature Dozens of Hands-On Space and Technology Exhibits and Talks by Two Astronauts; Event Follows $1.5 Million Sample Return Robot Challenge

June 8, 2015
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Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will open its campus Saturday, June 13, for the fourth annual TouchTomorrow, a festival of science, technology, and robots. This free, family-friendly festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine, and feature hands-on activities and exhibits designed to inspire children, teens, and young adults to explore the thrill and fun of science and technology. Exhibits are presented by WPI, NASA,WGBH, and a wide variety of museums, educational organizations, and companies.

For the second year in a row, WGBH will serve as the official media partner for the festival. A national leader in the effort to expand science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in the classroom and at home, WGBH will debut its WGBH@TouchTomorrow exhibit, which features multimedia activities for students and STEM enthusiasts of all ages, as well as personal appearances by popular WGBH characters.

Among other activities, attendees at TouchTomorrow may:

• Help operate a rover at the Be-A-Bot exhibit and command the NASA Marcbot
• Take a photo in a NASA spacesuit
• Play on a model of the lunar floor
• Get “rolled over” by a robot
• Find out what happens to Peeps when you put them in a vacuum chamber
• Visit WPI research labs and engage in interactive activities in biology (extract DNA from peas), chemistry (make a solar cell with raspberry juice), biomedical engineering (try out a minimally invasive surgery simulator), materials science (put a carrot in liquid nitrogen to learn what makes materials brittle or ductile), and robotics (play tic-tac-toe with a robotic companion).
• Talk to WPI researchers who are exploring how everyday people can teach robots, learning to keep satellites cool in space, developing an exo-musculature with hydro-muscles that will help people lift heavy objects, and advancing the technology of unmanned aerial vehicles.
• See WPI student project work in robotics, game design and animation, architectural engineering, and other areas.
• Hear talks by NASA astronauts Cady Coleman and Steve Swanson.

TouchTomorrow follows the NASA Sample Return Robot (SRR) Challenge, a Centennial Challenge competition to be held June 8-13 in Institute Park. The challenge, created to drive competition and innovation among individual inventors, students, and private companies, requires teams to design and build an autonomous robotic system that will locate and collect geological samples without human control. This year, 20 teams of roboticists will compete for a piece of the $1.5 million prize purse.

"This is a phenomenal week to be on the WPI campus," said WPI President Laurie Leshin, who has also served as director of science and exploration at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. "In addition to hosting TouchTomorrow to excite young people, families, and teachers about science and technology, we are thrilled to welcome to campus some of the most innovative robotics engineers from across the country and abroad for NASA’s Sample Return Robot Competition. We have something for everyone this week, as we highlight how we can use innovative science, engineering, and technology to make the world a better place."

The NASA Sample Return Robot (SRR) Challenge

WPI is the first university that NASA has partnered with to manage a Centennial Challenge, and the SRR Challenge is the first of these competitions to be held east of the Mississippi. Now in its fourth year at WPI, the SRR Challenge requires teams to complete two increasingly difficult levels of competition, during which their robots must maneuver across a large landscape of varied terrains and hazards to identify and collect specific samples. The tasks are extremely difficult, and at the first competition, in 2012, no teams were awarded prize money. Since then, however, two teams have received $5,000 for completing Level 1 of the competition: Team Survey of Los Angeles in 2013 and the West Virginia Mountaineers in 2014. Those teams will be eligible to bypass Level 1 this year, if they choose.

NASA prize competitions like the SRR Challenge establish an important goal without having to choose the approach or the team most likely to succeed, while only paying for results. The competitions also increase the number and diversity of individuals, organizations, and teams that are addressing a particular problem or challenge of national or international significance, while stimulating private sector investment that is many times greater than the cash value of the prize. Prizes also capture the public imagination and change people's perception of what is possible.

The SRR Challenge will be broadcast via live stream at www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-msfc. For more information about the NASA SRR Challenge, including a list of competitors, visit www.nasa.gov/robot.

Journalists and media representatives seeking additional information about TouchTomorrow or the 2015 SRR Challenge at WPI should contact Eileen Brangan Mell at 508-831-6785 or ebmell@wpi.edu.