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'Secret Agent Worms' to debut at Ag Open House

Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
(217) 333-5802;


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- "Secret Agent Worms," corn as a vitamin and fuel, and kenaf as an alternative cash crop are among the exhibits to be displayed March 2-3 at the 12th Annual College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) Open House at the University of Illinois.

This yearÕs theme is "Science All Around Us."

"The Open House truly will have 'Science All Around Us' as visitors will have the opportunity to explore everything from plant and animal sciences to economic, home and engineering sciences," said Scottie Miller, associate director of development and director of special events for the college. "They can extract DNA, talk to Master Gardeners about their spring garden plans, and hold a variety of animals and insects."

Open House hours will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. The gateway to the ACES Open House will be the Plant Sciences Laboratory, 1201 S. Dorner Drive, Urbana.

Inside the Plant Sciences Laboratory, guests can learn about the insect world. The Insect Place allows for getting up close, including close enough to pet. Another exhibit discusses the Asian long-horned beetle. Another focuses on the bugs of Illinois.

Children can get their first look at Napoleon Soil and Jane Blonde, two "Secret Agent Worms" poised to debut in a series of full-color childrenÕs books and activity packets. The first book featuring the zany agents is geared for third- through fifth-grade readers. Creator Doug Peterson, an Extension communications specialist, will be on hand to lead demonstrations with visiting parents, teachers and children.

This yearÕs Floral Design to Music demonstration, titled "Beauty and the Beat," will be at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day in the Plant Sciences Laboratory.

In the Agricultural Engineering Sciences Building, 1304 W. Pennsylvania Ave., visitors will find a variety of food booths and the always popular orange-and-blue Illini ice cream. There also will be exhibits involving food, too, such as "Where Do Vitamins Come From" that, among other examples, tell how Vitamin E comes from corn.

Another exhibit on corn focuses on the crop as fuel, particularly how the dry-grind ethanol production process offers potential relief from high gas prices. Another exhibit focuses on sun power. It will show how solar cells, once used to power satellites, can be harnessed at low cost to help out on the farm -- operating gates, pumping water for livestock and maintaining oxygen levels in fish ponds.

The Technology Systems Management Student Club, in one display, will show how manure can make a profit and, in another, answer the question, "What do a glass of Guinness and a spray nozzle have in common?" Other exhibits will highlight opportunities for students in agricultural and consumer economics, provide overviews on various financial management programs, and detail the work of the Council for Food and Agricultural Research (CFAR) to promote science.

In addition to the Plant Sciences Laboratory, exhibits and demonstrations will be set up in the Stock Pavilion, 1402 W. Pennsylvania Ave., where there will be a spring-like area developed by the new Junior Master Gardeners Program. Visitors also can see the floor plans for the ACES Library, Information and Library Center, still under construction.

They can also learn about "Biodiversity Blitz 2001," which is a one-day photographic trip to capture on film the flora and fauna of Allerton Park. The public will have the opportunity to watch and learn as scientists of the UI and Illinois Natural History Survey blitz the park in a 24-hour period beginning at 2 p.m. June 29.

Young visitors at the Stock Pavilion can milk a cow, plant seeds, watch a sheep-shearing demonstration, and pet pigs and other animals. The Maize Genetics Stock Center will display mutant, colorful corn. The mutant examples provide insight into the metabolic, developmental and other biological processes studied by crop scientists.

The department of natural resources and environmental sciences will have exhibits on the "ABCs of Selling Timber" and "Kenaf: The Fiber of the Future?" Kenaf is seen as a potential, short-term alternative crop for Illinois farmers. UI researchers suggest that this non-wood fiber plant, native to east-central Africa, could be tapped for fiber production if predictions of a wood-fiber shortage happen.

As always, the Meat Sciences Laboratory, 1503 S. Maryland, will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days of Open House so that guests may purchase beef, pork and lamb products to take home.

Guests may park free at the south end of University Lot E-14, at First Street and St. MaryÕs Road just southwest of Assembly Hall in Champaign. Free Open House shuttle service will run between Lot E-14 and the Plant Sciences Laboratory, the Stock Pavilion and other Open House locations beginning at 9 a.m. and running continuously until 4 p.m.

On Saturday, on-street and campus-lot parking will be available. A free campus shuttle bus also will be operating every 30 minutes both days from the Stock Pavilion between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. so visitors can travel across campus to the Engineering Open House.

There is no admission charge to the Open House, which draws more than 20,000 visitors each year.