Festival Lecture Series Engages Scientists and the Rest of Us

Monday, March 25, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – March 25, 2013 - Who’s afraid of the Higgs boson? Or metamaterials? Bioinformatics? Big bad data? Or – gasp! – dark energy? Chances are, you are. Modern science, both theoretical and applied, gives us amazing new views of our world and our universe,  but, whenever we try to understand what the researchers have found, it seems that most of us get really, really lost.

Maybe all the new knowledge is just way beyond our level… or maybe, just maybe, we have never had the right person explain it to us… in a way that doesn’t require a doctorate in astrophysics to understand.

With the conviction that much of the wonder of science and scientific discovery can be made understandable, interesting, and even fun, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is presenting a series of five free, public lectures aimed at exploring a variety of science and technology topics in language that almost anyone will be able to follow.

The series, titled “Research Journeys,” is sponsored by UNC Charlotte Research and Economic Development and the Charlotte Research Institute, and is part of a host of events the university is presenting for the North Carolina Science Festival, April 5-21. The lecture topics range from exploring wild new discoveries in subatomic physics to looking at how governments use postage stamps to teach science; from using computer technology in preventing global flu outbreaks -- or in conducting dazzlingly complicated experiments, to making science fictional invisibility cloaks a reality.

Prominent in the series is a special guest lecture by California Institute of Technology theoretical physicist Sean Carroll, who will deliver a talk entitled "The Particle at the End of the Universe" on Wednesday April 10, at 7 p.m. in EPIC G256.

A respected and wide-ranging research scientist whose work includes both the fields of cosmology and particle physics, Carroll has also built a second career as an explainer and spokesman for science, particularly for modern physics. Carroll specializes in telling the story of the weirdest and most challenging areas of human knowledge. It is not out of order to compare him to the late astronomer Carl Sagan, though where Sagan’s challenge was to introduce the public to the “billions and billions” of stars in the known universe, Carroll has the unenviable task of helping non-scientists understand and appreciate new, otherworldly physics that includes such difficult concepts as the Higgs field, cosmic inflation, and “dark energy.”

Carroll’s talk at UNC Charlotte will be on the Higgs boson, the topic of his newest book on physics for popular audiences. Long theorized by contemporary physics, the Higgs boson was only recently proven to exist by experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile-long, $9 billion Swiss-French facility expressly built to find it.  The Higgs is quite literally the particle that puts the mass in matter – and that makes the universe (as we know it) possible.

About Carroll’s book on the Higgs, the actor and science show producer Morgan Freeman said: "Carroll tells the story of the particle that everyone has heard of but few of us actually understand. After you read his book -- an enticing cocktail of personal anecdote, clever analogy, and a small dose of mind-bending theory -- you will truly grasp why the Higgs boson has been sought after for so long by so many. Carroll is a believer in big science asking big questions and his beliefs are infectious and inspiring."

In addition to “The Particle at the End of the Universe” (Dutton, 2012), Carroll is the author of a book about time and the beginning of the universe, “From Eternity to Here” (Dutton, 2010), two video lecture series on modern physics and dark matter/dark energy, and a very popular science blog. As a researcher, he has published more than 60 research articles in many of the top science journals. He is also the author of a textbook on General Relativity.

Carroll’s efforts to foster public engagement in science are impressive, but he is by no means the only active researcher willing to take time away from lab and grants to do outreach. In celebration of this year’s North Carolina Science Festival, four members of UNC Charlotte’s research faculty have also volunteered to do public presentations.

On Friday, April 5,  UNC Charlotte professor of chemistry Daniel Rabinovich will talk on "Hydrogen to Copernicium:  The World of Chemistry on Postage Stamps" at 3 p.m.

in Grigg Hall 132. Rabinovich, an active researcher in inorganic chemist, has developed a side fascination with the way stamps have been used as a vehicle for communicating the science of chemistry to the public, and has long edited a column for Chemistry International  on stamps and chemistry.

Rabinovich notes that a surprisingly large number of stamps have been issued to commemorate scientific discoveries or to honor well-known scientists in the chemical field.  His talk will feature postage stamps and other philatelic materials pertaining to the history of chemistry, the discovery and sources of the elements, chemical structures and formulas, laboratory equipment, biochemistry, and various aspects of the chemical industry -- and show how science creeps into public awareness through unexpected means.

On Monday, April 8, software professor and former dean of UNC Charlotte’s College of Computing and Informatics Mirsad Hadzikadic will speak on "Learning How to do e-Science in a Virtual World" at 7 p.m. in Bioinformatics 105.

Hadzikadic, who is currently the director of the Complex Systems Institute, is developing an academic program at UNC Charlotte in doing eScience, an emerging discipline that is already having a major impact in numerous fields, from the social sciences through the life sciences and physical sciences. eScience’s basic premise is that in addition to the two accepted scientific inquiry methods --  theoretical/mathematical formulation and experimentation -- computational simulation/modeling has become a third method for doing science.  eScience introduces the application of computational methods to scientific exploration and discovery.

On Monday, April 15 associate professor of physics and optical science Greg Gbur will speak on " How Not to Be Seen: The History and Science of Invisibility” at 7:30 p.m. in Bioinformatics 105.

Gbur is an active researcher in invisibility and other related areas in optics, but he is also, like Carroll, a prominent science blogger, and also the author of popular essays and books on science.  In addition to science, Gbur is also an authority on the history of science, and science/horror fiction, both of which, he argues, can give current researchers valuable perspective on their work.

He notes: “ In the past few years, invisibility cloaks have moved from science fiction to an active field of scientific study.  Though we don’t have cloaks yet, there are a lot of fascinating developments in the science of invisibility.”  Professor Gbur will talk about both the history of invisibility in fiction and science as well as the most recent exciting developments.

Concluding the lecture series on Wednesday, April 17, Dan Janies, Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Bioinformatics and Genomics, will speak on "Weather Maps for Infectious Disease" at 7 p.m. in Grigg Hall 132.

Janies is the lead developer of the Supramap Project,  a software system that links enormous quantities of real-time genomic data on pathogens (such as influenza viruses) with geography to help epidemiologists combat disease epidemics. Traditionally, epidemiologists study the rise and fall in the number of cases of diseases that share symptoms.  “Now with genomic data and geographic information systems we can study the evolution and spread of specific bacteria and viruses that cause disease over space, time, and various hosts,” Janies says. The results are an interactive visualization akin to a weather map for infectious diseases.

In addition to the Research Journeys series, UNC Charlotte is also presenting a number of other North Carolina Science Festival events, including a Star Party on April 5 and a large Science and Technology Expo on April 21.

For a complete listing of events and other information, see http://ncsciencefestival.uncc.edu .

For questions regarding the lectures and other events, contact Jim Hathaway at 704-687-5743 or by email at jbhathaw@uncc.edu.




Media Relations contact:

Jim Hathaway, 704-687-5743, jbhathaw@unccc.edu




Featuring Caltech Physicist/Author and UNC Charlotte Faculty