The Department of Physics and Astronomy and Department of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University invite audiences across Texas to get up-close and personal with science and technology next month at the 2012 Physics & Engineering Festival, an entertaining and informative weekend scientific extravaganza for all ages.

No fees or tickets are required for the free annual event, scheduled for Saturday, March 31, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the George P. Mitchell '40 Physics Buildings on the Texas A&M campus. All events are sponsored by the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Department of Aerospace Engineering, the Texas A&M College of Science, the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy, and The Association of Former Students. The event is an affiliate festival of the 2nd USA Science and Engineering Festival.

Activities will begin at 10 a.m. with hands-on science exhibitions and engineering technology demonstrations and conclude with two public lectures about the universe scheduled for 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., participants are encouraged to unleash their inner scientists aboard a square-wheeled bicycle and to try their hands at generating electricity or shooting balloons with lasers -- three of roughly 100 fun experiments and displays illustrating basic scientific and engineering technology-related concepts and principles. All exhibits are manned by Texas A&M faculty, staff and students. The Departments of Physics and Astronomy and Aerospace Engineering will be joined by representatives from the Departments of Chemistry, Mathematics, and Biochemistry and Biophysics.

In addition to exhibits, the daylong festival will feature three fantastic bubble shows (11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m.) by internationally acclaimed bubble artist and physics showman Keith Johnson, whose work has been featured on the Discovery Channel and in USA Today and Real Simple Family. Attendees also will have the opportunity to meet NASA astronaut Dr. Richard M. Linnehan, who flew on four Space Shuttle missions and also spent time on the International Space Station, as well as Nobel Prize-winning Texas A&M physicists Dr. David M. Lee and Dr. Dudley R. Herschbach in three successive afternoon question-and-answer sessions scheduled for 12 p.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively, in the Stephen W. Hawking Auditorium.

At 4 p.m., Texas A&M astronomer Dr. Nicholas B. Suntzeff will present "The End of the Universe" in the primary lecture hall of the Mitchell Physics Building. In addition to detailing his 30-year career studying supernovae, Suntzeff will share the latest ideas in the science of cosmology, which for the first time is poised to predict the future evolution of the universe as a whole.

At 7 p.m., Dr. Carter Emmart, director of astrovisualization at the American Museum of Natural History's Rose Center for Earth and Space, will present "Fly Through the Universe" in the Hawking Auditorium to round out the day's events. Emmart's talk will detail astronomical data assembled by the museum during the past decade and digitized to enable the audience to virtually tour the universe using the same software Emmart developed for use in the museum's world-famous Hayden Planetarium.

Suntzeff, an international expert in cosmology, supernovae, stellar populations and astronomical instrumentation, is the inaugural holder of the Mitchell-Heep-Munnerlyn Endowed Chair in Observational Astronomy. He came to Texas A&M in spring 2006 to lead the university's efforts to build a world-renowned program in astronomy and cosmology. Prior to that, he spent 20 years at the United States National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO)/Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in La Serena, Chile, where he was the associate director for science for NOAO and a tenured astronomer since 1996. Suntzeff co-founded the High-Z Supernova Search Team, one of two groups whose leaders were awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for their near-simultaneous discovery of the accelerating universe, a finding honored as Science magazine's "Scientific Breakthrough of the Year" for 1998. He spent the past year in Washington, D.C. as Texas A&M's first-ever Jefferson Science Fellow, advising the U.S. State Department on scientific issues as they relate to international diplomacy.

Emmart, who is equally revered for his modeling and visualization talent as well as his artistic style, directs the American Museum of Natural History's groundbreaking space shows and heads up development of an interactive 3D atlas called The Digital Universe. He coordinates scientists, programmers and artists to produce scientifically accurate yet visually stunning and immersive space experiences in the AMNH's Hayden Planetarium. During the past decade, he has directed four shows: "Passport to the Universe;" "The Search for Life: Are We Alone?" "Cosmic Collisions" and "Journey to the Stars." Emmart's interest in space began early, and by age 10 he was taking astronomy courses in the old Hayden. As a child born into a family of artists, he naturally combined his love of science with his tendency for visualization. His first work was in architectural modeling, soon moving on to do scientific visualization for NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research before joining the AMNH.

Prior to Saturday's events, Dr. Dudley R. Herschbach, distinguished professor of physics and astronomy at Texas A&M, will deliver a free public lecture, "Silly Serious Science: Homage to IgNobel and Ben Franklin," on Friday (March 30) at 7 p.m. in the Hawking Auditorium. Tickets are not required for the event, in which Herschbach, a longtime participant in the Igs -- a festive Harvard-hosted annual event dating back to 1991 to honor achievements that "first make people laugh and then make them think" -- will present for the first time a medley of his own favorite silly-yet-serious episodes, including several playful pranks by Ben Franklin.

Herschbach, an international leader in both theoretical and experimental chemical physics who shared in the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, joined the Texas A&M faculty in 2005. He is a 48-year veteran of the chemistry faculty at Harvard University, where he earned his Ph.D. in chemical physics in 1958 and has served as the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science since 1976. His research at the interface of physics and chemistry focuses on structure and reactions of molecules, resulting in more than 400 articles in peer-reviewed academic journals and publications. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the Royal Chemical Society of Great Britain. His many awards in addition to the Nobel Prize include the American Chemical Society's Pure Chemistry Prize (1965), the Linus Pauling Medal (1978), the Michael Polanyi Medal (1981), the American Physical Society's Irving Langmuir Prize (1983), the National Medal of Science (1991), the Jaroslav Heyrovsky Medal (1992), the Sierra Nevada Distinguished Chemist Award (1993), the ACS's Kosolapoff Award (1994), the William Walker Prize (1994) and the Council of Scientific Society President's Award for Support of Science (1999). In 1998, he was named by Chemical & Engineering News as one of the 75 leading contributors to the chemical enterprise in the past 75 years. Last April Herschbach was awarded the 2011 American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal, the AIC's highest award which recognizes service to the science of chemistry and to the profession of chemistry or chemical engineering in the United States. Beyond his research and scholarship, he is equally revered for his dedicated efforts to improve K-12 science education and public understanding of science.

For the latest details regarding the 2012 Physics & Engineering Festival, including event directions and parking information, please visit http://physicsfestival.tamu.edu.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Keith Johnson

    Bubble Shows: 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m.

  • Dr. Richard M. Linnehan

    Q&A Session: 12 p.m., Hawking Auditorium

  • Dr. David M. Lee

    Q&A Session: 1 p.m., Hawking Auditorium

  • Dr. Dudley R. Herschbach

    Q&A Session: 2 p.m., Hawking Auditorium; Public Lecture Friday (March 30), 7 p.m., Hawking Auditorium

  • Dr. Nicholas B. Suntzeff

    Public Lecture: 4 p.m., Mitchell Physics Building Primary Lecture Hall

  • Dr. Carter Emmart

    Public Lecture: 7 p.m., Hawking Auditorium

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