Whitney Palmer

Healthcare. Politics. Family.

UNC expo caps science festival

Published in the Sept. 26, 2010 Raleigh News & Observer

BY WHITNEY L.J. HOWELL – CORRESPONDENT

CHAPEL HILL — With the balloons, tables, music and families scattered around the McCorkle Place quad at UNC-Chapel Hill, Saturday’s scene might have been mistaken for freshman orientation or Family Day.

But after one overheard question – “How does the heart keep working after a person dies?” – it was quickly apparent this event was something more.

The first UNC Science Expo drew hundreds of science enthusiasts of all ages to the UNC-CH campus, with features such as an “Ask a Scientist” booth to answer questions about successful organ transplantation.

The Expo was the first event of its kind on the UNC-CH campus. It served as the capstone to the multiday N.C. Science Festival, designed to showcase science from around the state and make it accessible to the public.

Exhibits featured information about medicine, mathematics, public health, wildlife conservation, physics, marine biology and other science fields.

Many people also took advantage of the opportunity to talk with scientists on specific topics, such as nanotechnology, climate change, astronomy and alternative energy. In addition, Dr. Oliver Smithies, the recipient of the 2007 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, discussed his life and work in genetics during a keynote discussion.

The goal, said UNC Expo coordinator Sue Klapper, was to present science in ways that had broad appeal.

Mathematics graduate students Emily Braley (left) and Vashti Robinson (right) demonstrate that any shaped bubble wands produce spherical bubbles. PHOTO CREDIT: Evan T. Howell

“We didn’t just want to reach one age group. We wanted to reach everyone from children to adults,” she said. “Through the activities, we wanted to show that science is fun, interesting and not at all scary.”

Interactive activities

Liz Hoffman, a doctoral student at the UNC Gillings School of Public Health, echoed Klapper and said she volunteered to work at the Expo specifically to get more children interested in science.

“This is a really cool way to talk with kids, share what I know, and teach them about science in an entertaining way,” she said, before fielding a question about quarks, the elementary and fundamental building blocks of matter.

Expo officials also used music to teach the audience. Baba Brinkman, a tree-planter turned hip-hop artist, entertained the crowd with his “Rap of Evolution.”

While watching an interactive physics demonstration filled with spinning plates, juggling and falling bowling balls, Cara Hanning said the fun environment was an important way to introduce science to her son, Jason, 3.

“He really enjoyed making a boat at one of the booths and putting pennies in it to learn about floating and sinking,” she said. “If that’s the one thing he’s learned today, it’s a good thing to know.”

Each of the nearly 50 exhibits provided the chance for people to experience and learn something new.

Children played surgeon, operating on sock monkeys.

Plant science was on display with Otis the owl from the Piedmont Wildlife Center and a 2-year-old hawk from the Carolina Raptor Center. Both had broken wings, demonstrating how scientists can rehabilitate injured animals.

The global biotechnology company Life Technologies Foundation created gene detectives by showing parents and children how to use DNA recovered from cheetah droppings to identify individual cats.

Opening kids’ eyes

Michael Richards said he brought his daughters, Mina, 4, and Mikayla, 9, to the Expo to show them things they won’t see in science class.

“It’s good to be able to give my girls the chance to see and do things they’ve never had the chance to,” he said, as Mina and Mikayla created towers from recycled items. “They went into a Chapel Hill ambulance, they saw the fire truck, and we walked inside the [Environmental Protection Agency] tent.”

Giving children the opportunity to see and touch new things, as well as learn how they work, will increase their natural curiosity, said Gretchen Van Vliet, as she helped her 3-year-old daughter Emmaline blow bubbles.

“I hope being here will reinforce [Emmaline’s] interest in science,” Van Vliet said. “I hope it helps her understand that science is the way she can explore and understand the world around her.”

Read more: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/09/26/703439/unc-expo-caps-science-festival.html#ixzz10ddaitkp

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September 26, 2010 - Posted by | Education, Healthcare, Science | , , , , ,

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