Some people have no idea how cool kelp sugar beads are, but students who participated in the third annual Science and Technology Day at UCSB do.

Made simply by dropping colored kelp sugar into cloudy calcium water and watching it gel, the kids can squish the beads and watch them explode, string them together and make a necklace or show them off to their parents and pretend they’re octopus eggs.

Kelp sugar beads were just one of many activities students from third to twelfth grade participated in on Saturday as part of an outreach program organized by Los Ingenieros, the National Society of Black Engineers and other groups. The day is designed to show elementary school students that college is fun and exciting – particularly the part of college that works with kelp sugar beads, electro-magnets and LEGO robots playing tug-of-war.

The event kicked off with a free breakfast and T-shirts for the 400-plus students and volunteers. Workshops throughout the day gave the kids a sample of what they could look forward to at college. They varied from a visit to marine biology touch tanks, where students petted sharks and picked up lobsters, to the Remote Access Astronomy Lab, where a banana was frozen with liquid nitrogen and used as a hammer.

Los Ingenieros Internal Vice President Higinio Montoya said chemistry professor Petra Van Koppen’s chemistry workshop is always popular with the children because she ignites bubbles filled with methane gas.

“The reason we do it is we’re trying to reach students who don’t get exposed to current findings in science and technology,” Montoya said. “And we try to motivate them to pursue higher level studies in science and engineering.”

The RoboChallenge event also generated considerable excitement. Teams of elementary school students built LEGO robots and entered them in competitions that included drag racing, sumo wrestling and tug-of-war.

“The kids started [making their robots] in January,” said Ann Webb, a teacher at Mary Buren Elementary School. “There was another competition here in March, and then we went back with bigger and better ideas.”

Student volunteers came out to help show kids there is more to the sciences than homework.

“I just want to be able to show kids that math and science are fun, not just a bunch of numbers,” senior chemical engineering major Cheryl Benmergui said. “I want to show them opportunities other than working in the labs.”

The keynote speaker was Ricardo Garcia, a UCSB graduate and staff engineer for Raytheon, a defense and aerospace contractor with operations in Goleta. He emphasized the importance of a college education and said students shouldn’t worry about other students making fun of them for studying.

“First, it’s not if I go to college, but when. It’s not if I graduate, but when. It’s not if I get my degree, but when,” he said. “It’s when you say ‘when’ that you commit.”

At the end of the day, event staff and volunteers presented students with prizes and ran a slideshow featuring pictures from the day’s events.

“We had a better turnout this year. It’s good to see so many students,” senior electrical engineering major Luis Esparza said. “Especially the range, as far as distance and ages.”