University City

UNCC science expo helps feed the curious mind

Demonstrations that involve explosions and fire are always big draws each year at the expo. “We have to tell people, no, we’re not under attack,” said James Hathaway, research communications manager at UNC Charlotte.
Demonstrations that involve explosions and fire are always big draws each year at the expo. “We have to tell people, no, we’re not under attack,” said James Hathaway, research communications manager at UNC Charlotte. UNC CHARLOTTE

Have you ever wondered how an explosion occurs? Or seen the sun’s corona with your own eyes? Have you ever commanded a drone high above the treetops? Or watched a team of robots play basketball?

On April 26, the public will have the chance to explore those frontiers during the UNC Charlotte Science & Technology Expo. The annual event, filled with hands-on science activities for budding scientists of all ages, will be held at UNC Charlotte.

The expo serves as UNCC’s finale to the North Carolina Science Festival, a month of science lectures, workshops and documentaries across the state, on topics of all sorts, including genetically-modified food and computer programming.

The North Carolina Science Festival began at UNC-Chapel Hill five years ago as a means to reignite the public’s curiosity for science and technology. Public interest had waned, its organizers determined, with fewer school-age children choosing science-related careers. The festival aims to show the community that science is fun, with more than 370 events open to the public throughout 54 counties in the state.

UNCC joined in the statewide festival four years ago, testing the waters with its expo.

“When we first did this expo, we didn’t really have any idea whether or not anyone would show up for it,” said James Hathaway, research communications manager at UNCC. “Strangely and pleasantly enough for us, people did.”

It has grown since its inaugural year, which held 30 scientific activities and hosted 3,000 guests. Last year, around 5,000 people attended the event.

This year 110 activities are planned during the expo, covering a multitude of scientific and technology disciplines.

Astronomers will show off a solar telescope for people to view the characteristics of the sun. Chemists will create explosions of different sizes and break down why they occur. Geologists will have sand and water tables to show children how natural-forming streams are created.

Technology experts will demonstrate 3D printers. Computer scientists will let visitors interact with the virtual human they’ve programmed. Architects and engineers will show people how to use straws and rubber bands to make integrity structures that can support enormous amounts of weight.

Robots of all sizes and shapes will take over the front of the student union – some playing basketball, others sorting trash. Participants will even be able to fly drones throughout the campus.

Greg Gbur, a UNCC physics professor, will bring physics devices, such as a touch-less musical instrument, to show how resonance and vibration act in unexpected ways.

“You just have to bring your hands near the instrument in order to play a note,” he said.

Hathaway said public universities are the perfect settings for sparking excitement and scientific curiosity in the public because they house experts who are eager to demonstrate the wonders of their disciplines.

“You don’t find very many science or engineering faculty who are bored with their jobs. We are ideally situated for having people like that to reach out and engage kids,” said Hathaway. “How can we make the public appreciate knowledge and get engaged in it – this really is what we are about.”

Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lisa? Email her at lisathornton@carolina.rr.com.

Want to go?

The UNC Charlotte Science & Technology Expo will be held from noon to 4 p.m. April 26 at the UNC Charlotte Union Plaza. Admission is free. For information, go to www.ncsciencefestival.uncc.edu

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