Robotics festival brings mechanical gadgetry to Spark Museum



A robotic creation by the members of Oak Harbor High School's robot club dances to viewer delight at the 6th Annual Northwest Robotics Festival in Bellingham on Feb. 19, 2011.


Home-made mechanical gadgetry will race, run mazes and clash with metallic might in the eighth annual Northwest Robotics Festival this weekend at the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention.

"There will be whole teams of people bringing robotic devices," said Tana Granack, museum director. "It's a great time to see some of the finest roboticists in the Northwest."

It's from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, May 25, in the Tesla Theater at Spark, 1312 Bay St. near Holly Street. Admission is free.

Afterward is the MegaZapper lightning show priced at $5.

"It's pretty spectacular," Granack said. "It's one of the largest Tesla coils in the country."

But before the Tesla coil demonstration, participants will be able build robots with help from members of the Bellingham Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Society and Western Washington University's College of Sciences and Technology, Granack said.

Displays and events are designed to spark a range of interests from a novice to a serious robotics fan, offering something for anyone who loves gadgets and machinery or computers, he said.

"There are mazes where you have to guide your robot through a maze, and games from simple to sophisticated," Granack said.

Other demonstrations include instruction on how to make a robot, fast-track racing and a push-comes-to-shove event that Granack called "robot sumo."

He said people like robots because they are easy to build and understand.

"What we love about robots is what we love about old radio," Granack said. "It's a tactile experience - kids love it. And there's nothing more important to this museum than getting kids of all ages excited about science."

Granack said the "eye candy of mechanical devices stimulates creative young minds.

"Once you draw them in, they want to know how it works," he said.


A used-book sale continues through Saturday, sponsored by the Friends of the Bellingham Public Library.

It's the annual Ski to Sea Book Sale, which is the nonprofit group's "flagship" sale, in the downstairs lecture room and in the lower hallway of the library, 210 Central Ave.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, May 23; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, May 24; and 10 a.m. 3 p.m. Saturday, May 25.

Most adult books are priced at $1, with children's paperbacks at 50 cents and children's hardcovers at $1. Books go for half price on Friday and $4 per bag on Saturday.

For more information, call 360-778-7250 or email


Seattle-area writers and historians Lorraine McConaghy and Judi Bentley will illustrate how Washington Territory played a role in the national debate over slavery in a free talk next week at Village Books.

McConaghy and Bentley will discuss their new book, "Free Boy: A True Story of Slave and Master," at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 29, in the downstairs Readings Room of the independent bookseller, 1200 11th St.

"Free Boy" is their extensively researched account of a 13-year-old slave smuggled by ship from the port of Olympia to Victoria, B.C., in the months preceding the Civil War. It's aimed at middle readers, ages 9 to 12.

"It's an unexpected story in that we don't usually associate slavery with Washington Territory," McConaghy said by phone from Seattle, where she is a historian at the Museum of History and Industry.

"This is about a kid who changes his circumstances. He runs away from everything he's ever known. It's a great story," she said.

McConaghy said she learned about the incident while she was scanning old newspapers as part of her research for a 2007 exhibit on Lincoln.

"My eye fell on a headline - 'Fugitive slave case,' and I thought, 'No,' " she said.

Fugitive slave laws were passed by Congress in an attempt to appease the South and at the same time limit the spread of slavery. The laws required escaped slaves to be returned to their owners.

In their book, McConaghy and Bentley describe both the slave and owner to tell a gripping story, filling in the historical blanks "with our best guess" based on research.

McConaghy said she and Bentley have been friends for some time. Although this is McConaghy's first book for young readers, Bentley has written several, including "Hiking Washington History" and others focusing on history and biography.

They'll have a PowerPoint presentation, and discuss race and slavery and its context in the Washington Territory. She said the historical documents will be posted soon at

"That means that students, kids and families can look at what Judi and I looked at," she said. "We hope to get people talking."

Suggest your ideas for family-friendly events or day trips to Robert Mittendorf at 360-756-2805 or

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service