Strong stuff on tap at STEM Cafe

SYCAMORE – You may have heard that spider’s silk is one of the strongest materials in the natural world, but did you know that scientists are developing genetically-engineered goats that can produce a spider-like silk in their milk? That’s just one of the weird and fascinating things happening in the world of materials science, a field of study that focuses on improving the everyday materials in things like your cell phone, your laptop and the roof of your house.

Materials scientists like September’s STEM Cafe speaker Dr. Michael Haji-Sheikh study spider silk and other natural materials to develop new commercial materials. On Thursday, Sept. 13, Northern Illinois University’s popular STEM Cafe series will explore advancements in engineering and materials science with the program Making Stuff Stronger. Haji-Sheikh, an associate professor of electrical engineering at NIU, will lead a free discussion at 6:30 p.m. at Taxco Restaurant, 223 W. State St. in Sycamore. Haji-Sheikh will share the latest research and theories about increasing the strength of everyday and exotic materials.

At monthly STEM Cafes, community members can hear a brief, informal talk on cutting-edge research in science, technology, engineering and math, then discuss questions and comments with STEM experts. STEM Cafes are free to the public. Food and drink are available for purchase.

Haji-Sheikh has a Ph.D. in civil engineering and has worked for such leading corporations as Bell Helicopter, Textron and Honeywell. He holds 14 U.S. patents and three European patents in the broad area of sensors and mechanics. An avid cyclist and racer, he will share secrets of the new strength in bicycles used by Olympic champions as well as in newly-designed clothing and household tools.

Making Stuff Stronger is part of a special series of STEM Cafes being presented this fall to coincide with Public Television’s rebroadcast of the four-part NOVA series “Making Stuff,” which airs again Sept. 19. October's program, Making Stuff Smaller, will be presented at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23 at Cabana Charley's in Sycamore. Join STEM Outreach to learn how nanotechnology is solving problems in engineering, medicine, and everyday life.

For more information, visit, contact Judith Dymond at or call 815-753-4751.

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