Energy and U

Starting with the simple idea of getting elementary students excited about science and engineering and going to college, the free Energy and U Show has developed into a semi-annual event bringing more than 10,000 3rd-6th grade students to the University of Minnesota campus.

What will we learn at the show?

Students learn about the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, the scale of world energy use, and the significant energy challenges that we face. There are numerous explosions, bright flashes, and music that gets the students and professors dancing. Most of the demonstrations involve student volunteers. Students erupt when we ignite a six-foot column of methane-filled suds, jump out of their chairs and dance in the lesson that energy is the ability to do work, and they recoil and then cheer after a large hydrogen explosion. Before the finale, they yell "No" when asked: 1) Can you create energy? and 2) Can you destroy energy? In addition, students hear messages that they can come to the University, study science and engineering, and work on solving the world's energy problems.

When are the shows?

Energy and U shows for school-aged children in 3rd through 6th grades are usually conducted in January and May. There is typically a public show in May as well. Schools are notified in September about the shows and how to register to attend.


The 60-minute show for public school groups is free. We reimburse schools up to $3.50 per student for their bus transportation costs. If a school needs additional help, please contact us at

What should we be aware of?

The show is highly sensory, and includes loud music, explosions, flashes of light, and strobe lights. Schools need to ensure that all teachers and volunteers know about this ahead of time and prepare by bringing ear muffs or sunglasses. Teachers also should ensure that Eileen Harvala, Energy and U logistics coordinator, knows about any accessibility issues before coming to the show such as wheelchairs, vision, and hearing.

Behavior Expectations

For the safety and enjoyment of the rest of the audience, students are expected to be respectful of Energy and U staff, volunteers, and audience members.

  1. Teachers and adult chaperones are responsible for monitoring and intervening with student behavior when necessary.
  2. Energy and U staff and volunteers reserve the right to ask audience members to leave the theater if their behavior jeopardizes the safety or integrity of the Energy and U show.
  3. Please ensure that all of the teachers receive a copy of the logistics and are fully aware that there are explosions, loud music, and strobes and bright lights. This is necessary for students with sensory, epilepsy and other neurological issues.
  4. Please review behavior expectations for and with your students. What’s it like to be in a theater? How should they behave? How do you expect them to behave? How can they have a great time, but respect the space, respect other audience members, and respect the presenters.
  5. Presenters will raise their hands when asking students to quiet down for the next lesson or demonstration.


The shows are created and performed by faculty members in the College of Science & Engineering and Department of Chemistry Lecture Demonstration Director Joe Franek. Eileen Harvala is coordinator for the show and handles arrangements for students coming to the show. Presenters include:

  • Professor Ambika Bhagi-Damodaran (Chemistry)
  • Professor Cari Dutcher (Mechanical Engineering)
  • Lecture Demonstration Director Joe Franek (Chemistry)
  • Professor Renee Frontiera (Chemistry)
  • Professor Christy Haynes (Chemistry)
  • Professor Aaron Massari (Director)
  • Professor Lee Penn (Chemistry)
  • Professor Sarah Swisher (Electrical and Computer Engineering)

Professor David Blank, Head of the Department of Chemistry, founded the show along with professors Professor Frank Bates from Chemical Engineering & Materials Science and Professor Marc Hillmyer from the Department of Chemistry. Blank was its director for many years. While no longer active presenters, Bates, Blank, and Hillmyer continue to support the show in many ways, including through their departments and research centers.

students going to Energy and U with Follow Me: I'm going to College t-shirts

"I teach at a very high needs school on the west side of Saint Paul, and many of my students do not know people other than their teachers who have been to college. On the way there, one of my 3rd grade students asked, 'Why are we going to a university? This isn't for us - I'm not going to go to college.' On the way out, she said, 'I want to be a chemist when I grow up!!' Showing the kids that science has fun, real world applications is the first step in inspiring them. I am so happy that your team planted the seed that she should strive to work hard and do something great in her life."