Unseasonably cold and rainy weather didn’t dampen the spirits of the 7,000-plus attendees on hand for the 16th annual Texas A&M Physics and Engineering Festival, hosted April 7 by the Department of Physics and Astronomy and headlined by University of Chicago astrophysicist Rocky Kolb.
Students, teachers and parents representing more than 50 schools from across Texas and as far away as Aransas Pass, McAllen, Brownsville and LaJoya officially made the trek to Aggieland aboard traditional yellow school buses and charters alike, joining thousands throughout the Brazos Valley in seizing the opportunity to experience what has become an unparalleled Texas A&M tradition in educational excellence, enthusiasm and engagement.
Whether packed shoulder to shoulder within the Mitchell Physics Building’s interiors or braving the intermittent drizzle and gusty winds outside, the record crowd remained as unflaggingly buoyant as the helium-filled maroon balloons many of them held while either taking in or, in countless cases, introducing their children to some of the basic tenets of science, engineering and mathematics.
“The goal of the festival is celebration,” explained Texas A&M physicist and event organizer Tatiana Erukhimova. “We invite everyone, from 3 to 103 years old — those who are interested in science and not so much — to celebrate science with us and have fun!”
What started in 2003 as a small display tied to the first of three sold-out public lectures at Texas A&M by world-famous Cambridge University theoretical physicist and bestselling author Stephen Hawking has blossomed into a can’t-miss weekend extravaganza featuring more than 200 hands-on demonstrations and experiments — many of which are built by the department’s students in tandem with faculty and staff, who turn out by the hundreds to ensure that the event is adequately staffed and ultimately a success.
Come rain or shine, it amounts to all the educational fun you can pack into seven hours, culminating in a Texas-sized five-barrel depth charge that sends 1,000 plastic balls rocketing skyward to the full height of the facility’s five-story backdrop before gravity inevitably takes its course to help close out the exhibition portion of the show in fitting scientifically governed style.
Take it from a Nobel laureate: It’s worth the price of admission, which just happens to be free, thanks in part to Texas A&M Physics and Astronomy as well as generous underwriting from donors, private foundations and corporate sponsors.
“The annual Physics Festival at Texas A&M is an inspiring event,” said Texas A&M physicist and 1986 Nobel Prize winner Dudley R. Herschbach. “It attracts a great host of visitors to a marvelous, captivating scientific carnival. All the students, staff and faculty pitch in wholeheartedly. They collaborate in devising and building educational and entertaining exhibits, demonstrations and hands-on mini experiments for the guests. The enthusiasm and excitement aroused in the visitors, especially the youngsters, rebounds to enhance the pride and cohesion of the department.”
With her 13th festival successfully in the books, Erukhimova readily agrees the event is an invaluable learning experience — a hands-on teaching opportunity that, much like Hwy 6, runs both ways.
“The best way to understand something is to explain it,” Erukhimova said. “By participating in the Physics Festival, our students acquire communication and leadership skills. They develop their identity as STEM professionals and, in the process, they serve their community by applying their knowledge. This is just as important as the benefit to the families and schools that come each year.”
Unlike the occasional balloon, It’s a lesson not lost on either party, as evidenced by one visitor’s parting observation:
“It amazes me to see the level of commitment your students showed in all of their work,” she noted. “The smiles and explanations at the end of five hours were just as fresh and enthusiastic as at the beginning. What an impact this makes, not only on Texas A&M as an institution, but also on future scientists.”
To make a gift to the Texas A&M Physics and Engineering Festival, go to http://give.am/PhysicsFestival.
Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr. Tatiana Erukhimova, (979) 845-5644 or email@example.com