Entomology professor Tom Turpin emcees the cricket-spitting contest as part of the Bug Bowl during the 2012 Spring Fest at Purdue University. | Purdue Agricultural Communication file photo by Tom Campbell
Updated: April 9, 2014 4:20PM
This weekend’s Spring Fest at Purdue University is a free family event on the West Lafayette campus, at the intersection of where fun and “wow” meet research and higher education.
At this family-friendly open house, colleges and academic departments from agriculture to veterinary science — plus societies and student groups, athletics, galleries and many more organizations — offer interesting, creative, fun and hands-on ways for visitors of all ages to learn about each group.
“You can spend two days here if you want to see it all. There’s sheep shearing, cow milking and animals, projects to make — so much to do, and it’s all free. Generally, it gives families a fun look at what goes on here but without getting into the details of the research,” Dr. Tom Turpin said.
Turpin, a professor of entomology and the originator of his department’s Bug Bowl 26 years ago, is partial to that perennial crowd favorite.
“Most people are predisposed to negative thoughts about insects,” he said. “Our intent is to look at the positive side of insects and to let people get up close and personal.”
Bug Bowl lets visitors get up really close, such as via an insect petting zoo, and even closer by sampling insects as food or joining in the cricket-spitting contest. Year after year, visitors line up to try — really.
Another popular Bug Bowl event is the racing at Roach Hill Downs.
“American cockroaches run around an oval track that was designed to have the roach-equivalent dimensions as furlongs on a horse race track,” he said. “We even list the sires and dames of the roaches, like in horse racing.
“There’s also the tractor pull, where Madagascar hissing cockroaches go along with a tractor in tow. These roaches weigh up to about what a tennis ball weighs,” according to Turpin.
Bug Bowl also includes insect crafts to make and take, face painting, judging of cakes decorated in insect motifs, honey tasting and more. And these are the offerings of just one of the over 25 participating organizations.
Another popular Spring Fest destination is the college of veterinary medicine, open only from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CDT Saturday. You can tour the veterinary hospital, learn about horse medicine with an interesting demonstration of the equine treadmill, watch search-and-rescue dog demonstrations and see a live spay surgery.
A sampling of other activities includes: a hands-on tide pool with live urchins, starfish and more to touch with the department of biological sciences; seeds to plant, take home and grow with the botany department; tasting smoked Asian carp with the department of forestry and natural resources; and trying fencing with the Purdue fencing club.
Though the event and activities are free, some of the student organizations sell food, T-shirts and other items to raise funds.
At Spring Fest you can also get an up-close and historic look at what has been described as “the greatest spectacle in college racing,” the Purdue Grand Prix.
In a state with a rich racing legacy, this 50-mile go-kart race is a Purdue tradition that helps fund scholarships. The 57th annual race will be held on April 26, and adds a trike race this year.
There is much more to experience at Spring Fest. Hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CDT Saturday and Sunday.
Bug Bowl takes place on both days, but several activities are only on Saturday.
Visit www.purdue.edu/springfest for more information, a map and parking information. Click on “activities” for details on organizations, activities and hours. Stop at the information tent for a schedule, map and scavenger hunt question list.