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N.C. Science Festival stimulates public, statewide

Family fun? How about going to your children’s classrooms and launching rockets.

A dramatically expanded outreach to K-12ers is only one way the North Carolina Science Festival is flexing to broaden its appeal. The annual event – March 28 through April 13 this year – features hundreds of events from the mountains (Cherokee) to the coast (Buxton).

This year, organizers are sponsoring 110 Folt Science Nights across the state. For these events, named for UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt, elementary schools have been mailed kits that contain the makings for 12 hands-on activities – “all sorts of good stuff,” according to festival director Jonathan Frederick. At school science nights, students and their families will be able to do chemistry experiments, build marshmallow towers and, yes, launch rockets: indoor-safe “stomp rockets” where forced air launches paper rockets the kids have made.

The festival-wide goal, of course, is to encourage everyone’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math. Universities and museums are heavily involved in the activities.

It’s not all for youngsters, either. Programs – many free of charge – range from lectures to hikes. The popular Star Parties (after-dark, outdoor sessions led by astronomers) have returned, and have expanded to include seven in South Carolina. There will also be more than a dozen expos across North Carolina – kind of a series of scientific street fairs.

Here’s a small sample of upcoming festival events in this area. Check for details, including cost.

March 28

“What’s Coming in Geonomics?” is a free-admission panel discussion featuring science journalist Carl Zimmer (New York Times, National Geographic) at 3 p.m. on the UNC Charlotte campus (in G256, in the EPIC building). At 8 p.m., Zimmer will give a free lecture, “You Are Thousands of Species: Discovering the Life Within You, uptown at the new UNCC Center City Building’s auditorium.

March 29

Reptile and Amphibian Day at Discovery Place, 301 N. Tryon St., is an all-day (10 a.m.-5 p.m.) chance to learn about some cold-blooded animals and see them up close.

March 29-April 9

The UNCC Charlotte Science Film Series offers free screenings of four notable sci-fi films, each followed by a panel discussion by scientists and other authorities about how close to (or far from) reality the movie may be. The film dates (and experts): 2011’s “Contagion,” 7 p.m. March 29 (UNCC science-in-film authority Ian Binnis, Observer medical reporter Karen Garloch and UNCC epidemic authority Daniel Janies); 1933’s “The Invisible Man,” 3 p.m. March 30 (UNCC light chemist Marcus Jones and UNCC optical scientist Greg Gbur). Both will be at the new UNCC Center City Building Auditorium.

On the main UNCC campus in EPIC G256: 1993’s “Jurassic Park,” 3 p.m. April 6 (UNCC biologists Susan Peters and Adam Reitzel and genomic scientist Jennifer Weller); 2012 documentary “Chasing Ice, 7 p.m. April 9 (UNCC climatologist Matthew Eastin and geologist Martha Epps; WCNC-TV meteorologists John Wendell and Meghan Danahey).

April 1

Mary Lou Maher, chair of the UNCC department of software and information systems, will give a free talk about her work in studying computer systems designed to maximize human interactivity. “Tangible Creativity” begins at 7 p.m. in Room 105 of the Bioinformatics Building.

April 2

Science historian/journalist Amy Shira Teitel will give a free public lecture – “How NASA Designed its Moon Mission” – at 7 p.m. in UNCC’s EPIC G256.

April 4

SciVisit2014 at Gaston College, in Dallas, exposes prospective students from Gaston and Lincoln counties to various STEM educational and career opportunities through academic-led activities and demonstrations. There’s free admission to the 9 a.m.-noon event.

April 5

From 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., the Zucchini 500 will be staged at Hilbish Ford, in Kannapolis. Kid-built race cars made with zucchini will compete on a 16-foot track for prizes. It’s free to see.

Inside Out: A Day of Dissection is a different kind of hands-on program. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Discovery Place, you can learn about body systems of animals (cadavers of a shark, frog or fetal peg) as they’re taken apart. A different specimen will be dissected each hour.

Events at Science Family Fun Night at ImaginOn, 300 E. Seventh St., includes science story time and fun activities at the children’s library and theater. It’s free of charge and is 1 to 3 p.m.

The Star Party at Gastonia’s Schiele Museum gets going at 7 p.m. Besides scanning the heavens for stars and planets, visit the planetarium for a presentation of the original program “Nightwatch; The Universe from Your Back Yard.”

April 5-6

The Carolina Raptor Center, 6000 Sample Road, Huntersville, offers Spring Photo WILD this weekend for pro and amateur photographers. Each day, after an early-bird breakfast at 7:30 a.m., there will be six 30-minute sessions where you can take images of more than 20 different raptors in unique settings.

April 6

Bird Lore & More is a free-admission event at Discovery Place where you can learn about bird populations, diets and habitats – including those found in area yards. Experts from the Raptor Center and other area organizations will be on hand. You can also watch “The Lost Bird Project,” a documentary about five North American bird species driven to extinction.

April 8

Advanced Manufacturing Day at Central Piedmont Community College is your chance to learn about career opportunities in advanced manufacturing. The free event (9:30-11:30 a.m.) has hands-on demonstrations of new technology, including 3-D printers. You can visit with business and industry representatives as well as students.

April 13

Check out more than 20 science and technology activities, displays and events at the UNC Charlotte Science and Technology Expo, staged by the students and faculty, at UNCC’s Union Mall. The free-admission event starts is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

April 11-13

The Reptile Zoo and Science Center, on U.S. 74 in Monroe, offers interactive experiments, fossil, mineral and preserved animal displays – plus live birds and more – at Cold-Blooded Encounters. It starts at 10:30 a.m. both days; presentations are offered each hour.