When it comes to sure signs that spring has arrived in Aggieland, there are budding Bradford pears, bluebonnets, Monarch butterflies and Texas A&M University’s annual Physics and Engineering Festival.
Although the 2015 version of the free annual event (view promotional poster online) is still more than a month away, officials encourage the public to plan early for increasingly popular daylong educational extravaganza, set for Saturday, March 28, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the George P. Mitchell ’40 Physics Building on the Texas A&M campus.
Activities will begin at 10 a.m. with hands-on science exhibitions and engineering technology demonstrations and conclude with a 4 p.m. public lecture by world-renowned string theorist and author Dr. Brian Greene, whose national bestseller, The Elegant Universe, sold more than a million copies and became an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning NOVA special that paved the way for his revolutionary career in science communications.
As a bonus feature to this year’s festival directly tied to Greene, the Department of Physics and Astronomy is teaming up with the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra to present Greene’s illustrated novella, Icarus at the Edge of Time. The mesmerizing tale narrated by Greene will mark the grand finale in a broader once-in-a-lifetime production, In a Galaxy Far, Far Away, set for 7:30 p.m. at Rudder Auditorium. Tickets, which range from $39 for general admission or $13 for students, are available online through the Memorial Student Center Box Office or via telephone at (979) 845-1234 or toll-free at (888) 890-5667. A number of free tickets will be made available to festival participants, with details soon to come via the festival website.
All events are hosted by the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Department of Aerospace Engineering in partnership with several other campus units, including the Departments of Chemistry, Mathematics and Atmospheric Sciences as well as the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History.
Throughout the day, festival participants are encouraged to unleash their inner scientists aboard a square-wheeled bicycle, run through a pool of cornstarch, and try their hands at generating electricity or shooting balloons with lasers — four of the more than 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.
For the third consecutive year, the festival will showcase dozens of exciting new demonstrations built by student teams affiliated with the university-funded DEEP (Discover, Explore and Enjoy Physics and Engineering) Program. Hundreds of DEEP students, undergraduate and graduate, have been involved in creating the new demos during the years, and many will be on hand to present their work.
In addition to exhibits, the daylong festival will feature three 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 Nobel Prize-winning Texas A&M physicists Dr. David M. Lee and Dr. Dudley R. Herschbach as well as NASA astronaut and professor Dr. Gregory Chamitoff, a former flight engineer and science officer aboard the International Space Station who in 2011 performed the final spacewalk of the overall Space Shuttle Program, in three successive lecture sessions scheduled for 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively, in the Stephen W. Hawking Auditorium.
At 4 p.m., Greene will deliver a keynote presentation, Dreams of a Unified Theory: Einstein and Beyond, that examines the work on legendary physicist Albert Einstein — specifically, his dreams of a single theory, perhaps encapsulated by a single mathematical equation, capable of explaining all of nature’s forces. Greene will take the audience on a whirlwind journey across 300 years of thinking, from state-of-the-art to the frontiers of physics, in a thought-provoking probe of the deepest laws that govern our universe.
Prior to Saturday’s events, Eric Berger, science writer for the Houston Chronicle, will deliver a free public lecture, Adrift: Does America have a future in space? on Friday (March 27) at 7 p.m. in the Hawking Auditorium. Tickets are not required for the event, in which Berger will discuss his insight gained during the past year in which he worked on a special seven-part series, Adrift, addressing the state of America’s space program. Berger, author of the popular SciGuy blog since 2005 and a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2009, will touch on myriad related subjects, from the collapse of the Constellation program and shifting White House priorities to the promise of private space companies and, ultimately, Houston’s fate as Space City.
All events are sponsored by a Texas A&M Tier One Program (TOP) grant, the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Department of Aerospace Engineering, the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy, and the Texas A&M College of Science. In addition, BB&T (Branch Banking and Trust) Corporation has provided generous support to help underwrite Greene’s visit. The event is an affiliate festival of the 4th annual USA Science and Engineering Festival as well as a member of the Science Festival Alliance.
For the latest details regarding the 2015 Physics & Engineering Festival, including event directions and parking information, please visit http://physicsfestival.tamu.edu.
Watch a recap video from the 2014 Physics & Engineering Festival on YouTube: