University Goes Sci-tastic with 12 Days of N.C. Science Festival Events

Monday, February 24, 2014

CHARLOTTE – Feb. 24, 2014 - The 2014 North Carolina Science Festival, a statewide celebration of science and technology, is themed “Life is Your Lab,” and for two and a half weeks at the end of March and beginning of April, it will certainly feel like that in the Tar Heel State. With hundreds and hundreds of events listed, it will be easier to find fun science going on in North Carolina than it will be to find azaleas in flower.

The Festival, now in its fourth year, has come into full bloom, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is ramping up its Festival participation as part of the seasonal exuberance. Expanding on its traditional Science and Technology Expo presentation (now in its third year), UNC Charlotte is also offering a seven-event public science lecture series, a four-event film series and a star party.

Never fear, the always-popular Expo will remain the university’s grand finale, closing out the Festival on April 13, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a greatly expanded set of acts, including robotics, motorsports engineering, rocketry, virtual people, exotic plants and high altitude balloons. The event is for the science-curious of all ages, featuring well over 100 hands-on activities and presentations in chemistry, physics, geology, computer science, engineering  and biology developed by the university and a host of industry and community organizations.

Also returning this year, the UNC Charlotte Observatory will offer a night of expertly-guided star-gazing, as it hosts its second annual NC Science Festival Star Party on April 4, starting at 8 p.m.

The UNC Charlotte Public Science Lecture Series ushers in the Festival with a genomic fanfare, as renowned science author and NY Times science columnist Carl Zimmer visits the Queen City to do two free public events on the Festival’s opening day, Friday, March 28. Zimmer, who is the author of 12 books about science and has written hundreds of articles for magazines such as The Atlantic, National Geographic, Time, Scientific American, Science, and Popular Science, is one of the world’s leading writers on the marvels of modern biology. At 3 p.m., he will lead a panel entitled “What’s Coming in Genomics?” with UNC Charlotte bioinformatics scientists Anthony Fodor, Dennis Livesay and Jessica Schlueter. At 8 p.m. the same day, he will deliver a free public lecture entitled “You Are Thousands of Species: Discovering The Life Within You.” The lecture is co-sponsored by the North Carolina Science Festival and will be followed by a reception and book signing.

Going from the inner microscopic realm to outer space, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 2, audiences will get a chance to hear an authority on extraterrestrial adventures as the series continues with a free public lecture by spaceflight historian Amy Shira Teitel, a science journalist and historian who writes the blog “Vintage Space” for Popular Science. Teitel, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the history of science, is also a science journalist who writes about space for such outlets as Discovery News Space, Al Jazeera English, Universe Today and AmericaSpace.

In addition to distinguished visiting speakers, the lecture program also includes a series of engaging public talks by UNC Charlotte faculty, discussing science topics that they are intimately familiar with as researchers. On April 1 at 7 p.m.,  Mary Lou Maher, professor and chair of UNC Charlotte’s department of software and information systems, will speak on her research in human-computer interaction in a talk “Tangible Creativity.” On April 3 at 7 p.m., Michael Walter a faculty member in chemistry who researches the potential of organic compounds for solar energy generation, will speak on  “Juice It Up: The Earth-Abundant Approach to Converting Sunlight into Usable Energy.” On April 8 at 7 p.m., architecture professor and director of the Laboratory for Innovative Housing Thomas Gentry will discuss his research work in the field of social sustainability with at talk entitled “Architectural Agriculture: Science, Technology, and Math in Sustainable Communities." The lecture series concludes with professor of science education Ian Binns speaking on April 10 at 7 p.m. on “Defending Science Education in the Tar Heel State.”

Recognizing the role that movies play in creating public interest in science,  UNC Charlotte is adding a Science Film Series to its Festival offerings for 2014. Have you ever left a science fiction movie wondering: “Is that something that could really happen? How accurate was the science in that film?” With those questions in mind, UNC Charlotte has picked four films, ranging from classic science fiction to modern thrillers, to a sensational documentary and then added some articulate authorities on the movies’ subjects to discuss where fantasy and reality either diverge or converge. The screenings are free, discussion is encouraged (and yes, there will be popcorn).

The first film in the series is “Contagion” (Warner Bros., 2011) co-hosted by Discovery Place on Saturday, March 29 at 7 p.m. This medical thriller concerning a deadly, rapidly spreading epidemic was widely touted on its release for its scientific accuracy, but the final word on that will be discussed by a panel of authorities, including real-life epidemic tracker and professor of bioinformatics Daniel Janies, Charlotte Observer health reporter Karen Garloch, and professor of science education Ian Binns. From the scary present, the series then continues by exploring what terrified us in the past with “The Invisible Man” (Universal, 1933, starring Claude Rains), a classic horror-scify film. Adding a modern twist to the screening will be discussion led by professor of optical science Greg Gbur, who is both an authority on classic horror and a well-known researcher in…(you guessed it) invisibility and UNC Charlotte chemist Marcus Jones, who does research in chemistry and… light. The free event will be a Sunday matinee on March 30 at 3 p.m. 

On Sunday, April 6,  the Science Film Series will continue with another 3 p.m. matinee, this time featuring the speculative scify classic “Jurassic Park,” (Universal, 1993) a film that both excited the public’s imagination about the possibilities of genomics and angered critics with its distortions of science. A panel composed of vertebrate biologist and ecologist Susan Peters, evolutionary biologist Adam Reitzel and genomic researcher Jennifer Weller will examine both the film’s wild speculations and its possible truths. The series will conclude on Wednesday, April 9, with the screening of the critically acclaimed documentary “Chasing Ice” (2012) at 7 p.m. This  film looks at the controversial topic of climate change by examining apparent recent and rapid decline of arctic ice. A panel composted of climate researchers Matthew Eastin and Martha Eppes, as well as WCNC-TV meteorologists John Wendel and Meghan Danahey will give their takes on the film’s evidence and participate in a broad discussion of the topic.

All events are free and open to the public.

For event locations, maps and more information, visit NC Science Festival 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 note: photos of events, including lecturers and panelists are available at:   

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




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