Turkeys, robots, cellular structure and ham radio were topics of discussion and hands-on learning Saturday at USC Aiken, amid the university's annual Science Education and Enrichment Day, a project of the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center.

This year's event, focusing on exposing kids to a wide range of topics in science, technology engineering and math, drew 3,922 visitors, according to John Hutchens, the science center's director of special programs. "It went great," he said.

The gathering, with Aiken County Public Schools and USCA as the other major presenters, is also sponsored by such organizations as Maxwell Law Firm, CommuniGraphics, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the Aiken Standard and WJBF-TV.

"It was a tremendous day … I've heard nothing but positive comments," Hutchens said. "I was upstairs in the Student Activities Center, and this lady was looking down at the gym and she's like, 'I just cannot believe how amazing this is. I can't believe I've never been to this before.'"

The event, he said, is in perfect harmony with the science center's mission, which is "to infuse the love of science, technology, engineering and math."

"Interactions with the kids were great," said Kristopher Howard, an officer with the North Augusta Department of Public Safety. He offered a chance for kids to try on firefighting gear – pants, coat, helmet and gloves – to develop a better appreciation for one of the job's challenges. 

"And that was minus a air pack," Howard noted. "Then you throw in trying to crawl through a dark unknown residence or trying to pull someone else out of a building with your weight and theirs and it’s a whole other ball game."

The Aiken Beekeepers Association was one of dozens of organizations with an exhibit. Theresa Kirchner, the association's vice president, offered a summary as her group was packing to leave. "The children were like sponges. They soak it all up, and it's lovely to speak with them all day. I look forward to it," she said.

"I'm medically trained, so from a science background, it was a natural transition. I truly enjoy it," she added, noting that she is retired from a career as a pediatric oncology nurse. 

Solar energy was a focal point for Aiken resident Jesse Morton, who was on hand as a regional field director for Conservation Voters of South Carolina, a Columbia-based organization. "I had a great time," he said, estimating between 200 and 300 kids visiting his group's exhibit.

"Basically, we just wanted kids to understand a little bit about how solar energy works – how do we use solar panels to … access the energy from the sun."