Science Festival Faculty Lectures let Researchers Tell Their Own Story

Monday, March 10, 2014

Everybody knows that faculty at research universities like UNC Charlotte spend a good part of their time doing research, but few people outside “the ivory tower” really know much about what that “research” is and why it matters to science (or other fields of knowledge) or to the world we live in.

Of course, part of the reason why university research is so mysterious is that it can be highly technical and require a lot of specialized background knowledge to understand. For this reason, researchers generally only communicate their work to others in their own fields. However, many researchers are also teachers, and, when asked, have the skills to talk clearly and enthusiastically about the results of their studies to almost any interested lay audience.

As part of its participation in the NC Science Festival, March 28 to April 13, UNC Charlotte has asked four faculty members to develop lectures aimed at showing the impact of their research to the public. Chosen both for their abilities in reaching wide audiences and for the thought-provoking nature of their studies, the presentations in the Faculty Lecture Series are meant to give their audiences clear and intimate views of some intriguing current university research activities.

The series begins with a lecture by design computing authority Mary Lou Maher, chair of UNC Charlotte’s department of Software and Information Systems at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 1. Maher’s talk, entitled “Tangible Creativity,” will focus on her work in studying computer systems designed to maximize human interactivity.

Says Maher: “Creativity in science and engineering is highly valued and not as mysterious as we once thought. Recent research has shown that something as simple as moving our body while solving problems can lead to more creative solutions. This revelation is now affecting how we design interactive computing systems. My talk will introduce various tangible computing devices and their potential for enhancing our creativity.”

Maher’s Lecture, and all other lectures in the Faculty Lecture Series, will be held in Room 105 of the Bioinformatics Building on the UNC Charlotte Campus.

Second in the series is a lecture by nanotechnologist Michael Walter, assistant professor of chemistry, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 3. Walter’s talk is titled “Juice It Up! The Earth-Abundant Approach to Converting Sunlight into Usable Energy” and concerns his work in using organic molecules, including some commonly found in fruits, to design highly efficient solar cells.

From plastic solar cells and quantum dots, to blackberry-juice-sensitized nanoparticles and artificial photosynthesis, Dr. Michael Walter will explain how new and inexpensive technologies are transforming the way solar energy will be harvested, stored, and used on demand. Noting that the sun is the Earth’s most abundant energy source, Walter explains: “My is talk about the future of transformative, solar energy technologies. If we could fully utilize this immense resource on a global scale using affordable technologies, we can supply the global community with carbon-free, clean, renewable energy.”

Following on April 8 at 7 p.m is a talk by social sustainability researcher Thomas Gentry, associate professor in the school of architecture  and director of the Laboratory for Innovative Housing. Gentry will speak on “Architectural Agriculture: Science, Technology, and Mathematics in Sustainable Communities.”

An architect, Gentry researches the human/social dynamics of small, local agriculture and environmentally sustainable housing. He is one of the co-investigators of a major National Science Foundation funded grant project that is exploring the poorly understood social dimensions of sustainability.

The last lecture of the series takes place on April 10 at 7 p.m.,  as science education researcher Dr. Ian Binns, assistant professor of education, discusses the political and social challenges that are part of modern science education. Binns, who has personal experience with public attacks on the integrity of science education and who has written academic papers discussing the issue, will give a talk entitled “Defending Science Education in the Tar Heel State.”

He explains: “Science education is under attack throughout the United States. Historically these attacks have focused on the teaching of evolution. More recently these attacks focus on evolution and climate change. This talk will address the various efforts that undermine the integrity of science and science education in the United States, with a focus on North Carolina.”

In addition to the Faculty Lecture Series,  UNC Charlotte is sponsoring a host of public events for the NC Science Festival (March 28-April 13), including a Guest Lecture Series (two events), a Science Film Series (four events), a Star Party, and the UNC Charlotte Science and Technology Expo, a large exhibition of science and technology from UNC Charlotte and the greater Charlotte community on April 13 at the Union Mall on the UNC Charlotte campus.

All events are free and open to the public.

For event locations, maps and more information, see  or call 704-687-5743. All events are sponsored by UNC Charlotte in association with the NC Science Festival. University sponsors include UNC Charlotte Research and Economic Development, the College of Computing and Informatics, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the College of Education, the College of Health and Human Services and the Graduate School. Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and Discovery Place are community partners and WFAE 90.7 fm is a media partner.



Media relations contact:   Jim Hathaway,, 704-687-5743

 Media note: photos of events, including lecturers and panelists are available at:  For assistance, contact Jim Hathaway.