IU seeks to inspire future scientists with second annual Science Fest

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman will be among those helping children and people of all ages celebrate their love of science on Saturday, Oct. 24, at Indiana University Bloomington.

Arriving only a week before Halloween, the famous physicists will return as family-friendly "zombies" during the second annual IU Science Fest. The event builds upon a longstanding tradition at IU to invite the public to campus to discover science with over 100 fun-filled, educational activities that will spark imaginations and ignite a desire to learn.

Over 1,800 people attended last year’s inaugural event.

Members of the IU Physics Club, which puts on a physics demonstration show each year, will play the "zombies." This year's theme, "Jurassic Swain," will see the famous physicists come back to stop other costumed "dinosaurs" from terrorizing Swain Hall.

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The show will be one of hundreds of activities taking place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the IU Bloomington buildings of Swain West, Jordan Hall, Lindley Hall, the Chemistry building and Kirkwood Observatory, plus special sign-in activities in the Student Building and IU Research and Teaching Preserve.

Schools and departments participating in this year’s festival include the departments of astronomy, biology, chemistry, environmental science, geography, geological sciences, mathematics physics, psychological and brain sciences, and the School of Informatics and Computing.

"The events are centered on having fun, but our purpose is serious: We want to inspire the next generation of scientists through outreach and education by showing in an enjoyable way the many ways that science surrounds us every day," said Rick Van Kooten, a professor in the Department of Physics and IU provost for research and associate vice president for research. "And for our older visitors, this event seeks to re-ignite that sense of childlike wonder that first inspired their love of science."

"Inviting the community to share in the wonder of science is a long and proud tradition at Indiana University," added Larry D. Singell, dean of the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. "We're excited to once again invite the public to campus for what is certain to be a fun-filled day of entertaining and enriching activities, as well as a great opportunity for our students, faculty and staff to give back to the community by sharing their enthusiasm for, and world-class expertise in, their respective academic fields."

Welcoming the public to campus to discover science has been a tradition at IU Bloomington since the Department of Physics held its first open house in the 1960s. In 2014, other departments and schools that had held open houses around the same time each year decided to combine their activities as the inaugural IU Science Fest.

Other fun-filled activities from the Department of Physics include "human gyroscopes," in which participates will learn about the physics of rotation with bicycle wheels; "rubber ball blast off," a lesson on the conservation of momentum by making balls bounce really high; and "cosmic rays in a cloud chamber," where a sealed chamber filled with liquid nitrogen will reveal cosmic rays.

Keeping in theme with the event's proximity to Halloween, the department also will explore the "the physics of scary movie soundtracks" using a theremin -- the eerie-sounding musical instrument played by manipulating an electric field.

Other departments participating in the event -- and a sampling of their activities -- include:

  • Department of Astronomy: View the sun, sunspots and solar prominences using a solar telescope at IU's Kirkwood Observatory.
  • Department of Biology: Discover evolution with lizards, experiment with bacteria that light up and take tours of the Jordan Hall greenhouse, which features rainforest, desert and carnivorous plants.
  • Department of Chemistry: Discover "creepy chemistry" at a haunted lab, catch a chemistry magic show or tour one of five chemistry research facilities, including the Glass Shop, where a professional glassblower creates specialized lab equipment for departments across IU.
  • Department of Environmental Science: Learn about environmental sustainability on a tour of the lake and forests at the IU Research and Teaching Preserve. Sign-up required in Jordan Hall.
  • Department of Geological Sciences:Explore the red planet by navigating a remote-controlled "rover" across a replica surface of Mars, smash geodes to find the crystals hidden in rocks and build an erupting volcano.
  • Department of Geography: Discover the geography of food by preparing traditional food from scratch using ingredients found in the country's region.
  • Department of Mathematics: The curator of IU's Slocum Puzzle Collection, the world's largest collection of mechanical puzzles, will be on hand to demonstrate solutions and their mind-bending geometry. (Event offered in collaboration with the Lilly Library.)
  • Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences: Wear a special helmet that operates a remote-controlled device powered by brain waves.
  • School of Computing and Informatics: Meet a robot, use a 3-D printer and learn to code a version of the popular mobile app, "Flappy Bird," with Anna and Elsa.

The second annual IU Science Fest will also once again feature a "science slam," a combination of a poetry slam and TED Talk in which four IU scientists compete to deliver the most compelling 12-minute science presentation in plain English. This year's topics are:

  • "The Greatest Show (not) on Earth,"presented by Matt Caplan, a graduate student in the Department of Physics, who will discuss the vastness of the universe and the lives of stars.
  • "Plants: They whisper, talk and even more," presented by Roger Hangarter, a professor in the Department Biology, who will show time-lapse photography illustrating the surprising dynamic ways that plants respond to their environment.
  • "Pollution Electrocution: Reduction of legacy pollutants," presented by Caitlyn McGuire, an associate instructor in the Department of Chemistry, who will discuss research on campus that is using electrochemical reactions to break down the harmful chemicals in the environment.
  • "Neutrons Kill Dark Energy Theory 5,"presented by Mike Snow, a professor in the Department of Physics, whose talk addresses mysterious particles that may represent “dark matter,” the strange substance that comprises third-fourths of the energy density of the universe.

IU Science Fest event is open to the public, although several activities will require sign-up at the door. Everyone, including large groups, is encouraged to attend. No registration is required.

For a complete list of activities at the 2015 IU Science Fest, visit the IU Science Fest website.

For more information, contact Tina Gilliland, IU science outreach liaison, atscihouse@indiana.edu or 812-855-5397.