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New fields overtake the old at an annual expo.

Former engineering professor Rudolf Henning walked among the robots and poster boards at the 35th annual USF Engineering Expo on Saturday, stopping to shake hands with those who remember him from his teaching days.

Back then, the University of South Florida's Engineering Expo was just starting up - the first one was in 1973, and there weren't nanotechnology or nuclear fusion demonstrations like there were on Saturday. Instead, computers that used punch cards were the new, exciting thing, he said.

"Engineering always changes," Henning said.

Though children could still construct model buildings with gumdrops and spaghetti in a civil engineering display, newer fields such as nanotechnology and bioengineering also were showcased.

Robert Tufts led tours through the 2-year-old nanotechnology laboratory, where he described his field as the study of things that are smaller than the width of a strand of hair.

During the expo's first couple of decades, USF didn't conduct nanotechnology research, he said. Now it's creating tiny devices that may soon be able to separate bacteria from blood cells.

In a classroom, students in the newly formed X-lab club showed off a nuclear fusion reactor, which was only for demonstration and didn't emit radiation. They also explained how they plan to launch a balloon with a camera 20 miles into the atmosphere next month, pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

"Nobody on campus has done any of that," doctoral student Josh Schumacher said.

Out in the expo's hub, children played with robots, including one that lifted plastic rings off the ground and onto a foot-long pole.

A larger robot shown by Honeywell intrigued Sam Gross, 8, who likes the idea that robots can be trained to do specific tasks.

"They walk and they pick up stuff," he said. "And they do your chores."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 661-2443.