Why open an umbrella with your hands when you can create a series of 20-plus chain reactions using science and technology skills to accomplish the same goal?

That’s the challenge put forth by the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, a highlight of the innovation expo taking place March 12 on the Santa Monica Pier.

Students from Santa Monica High School and Lincoln Middle School as well as peers from across the region will convene at one of Santa Monica’s most iconic destinations to participate in the competition, which is part of the third-annual STEAM Machines Innovation Fair.

The free, family-friendly event on Saturday will bring together hundreds of children, parents, educators and tech enthusiasts for workshops and exhibitions that aim to inspire the next generation of skilled creative thinkers.

“The environmental issues of today are going to be solved by these kids who are smart scientists,” said Heather Doyle, educational programming curator for the pier and director of Heal The Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. “We need to cultivate the scientists of the future so we can help save our environment.”

Doyle said the proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the solar-powered Ferris wheel in Pacific Park make the pier an appropriate destination for the expo. She added that it’s important for youngsters to experience science in non-classroom settings. There will be bicycle-powered ice cream, automated drawing machines and recycling machines made out of trash.

“That hands-on experience actually has a greater impact than in school on a worksheet,” she said. “When kids visit a museum, they never forget what they learned.”

Saturday’s event will also include a discussion panel featuring leaders in science and technology, including Diana Skaar, head of business innovation for X (formerly Google X); Kristina Kipp, a systems engineer at Jet Propulsion Lab who has worked on Mars rover mission planning; and Cynthia Erenas, an award-winning robotics student from the Boyle Heights area.

“It’s a powerhouse group of women,” Doyle said.

Winners from the regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest will be announced after the panel, and they will advance to the national competition. The contest aims to promote the use of technology and creativity to solve real-world problems.

The competition is inspired by Goldberg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and inventor who spawned interest in unnecessarily complicated contraptions.

“Rube Goldberg machines inspire creativity and innovation and have become a fixture in education, pop culture and entertainment thanks to these annual competitions and, of course, the Internet,” Santa Monica Pier executive director Jay Farrand said in a press release.

The action will begin around 11 a.m. with do-it-yourself stomp rockets by the Columbia Memorial Space Center, 3D printer demonstrations and activities at the pier aquarium. Attendees will be able to drive a remote-controlled submarine under water.

The machine contest will run until about 2 p.m., when the panel hosted by “The Tomorrow Show” host Gray Bright is scheduled to begin.

For more information, visit santamonicapier.org/steam.