Monday, March 12, 2018

There is a lot of science going on in North Carolina, and on April 1, the state begins the 2018 N.C. Science Festival, a statewide public “celebration of science,” featuring almost 700 events, throughout the entire month.

Now in its seventh year of participation, UNC Charlotte is again part of the N.C. Science Festival’s (NCSF) mind-expanding activities. In addition to the University’s popular (and always growing) Science and Technology Expo on Sunday, April 29, UNC Charlotte is offering an eight-event series of kid-stimulating science and technology workshops, as well as the always-cosmic Star Party on Friday, April 20.

The Science and Technology Expo remains the University’s largest NCSF event and its grand finale, closing out the festival from noon to 4 p.m., Sunday, April 29. The expo includes an ever-expanding set of activities, including robotics, rocketry, virtual people, live animals, lab experiments, explosive chemistry, exotic plants, fire engines, race cars, boats, and an interactive artificial intelligence and lifelike machine or two. The event is for the science-curious of all ages, featuring 100-plus hands-on activities and presentations. Many of these offer public-friendly glimpses into some more-than-cool current research work, developed by UNC Charlotte science and technology departments and labs.

The April 29 expo has grown to be much more than a showcase of University expertise — a host of industry and community organizations is involved in what has become a regional festival of ingenuity and education. Among this year’s partnering organizations are STEM-oriented institutions such as Discovery Place, the N.C. Zoo, Carolina Raptor Center, Great Outdoors University (N.C. Wildlife Federation), Makerspace Charlotte, Charlotte IOT, NASCAR Hall of Fame, N.C. First and First Tech Challenge Robotics (100 Black Men of Charlotte). Various K-12 schools will participate, showcasing creative STEM activities taking place in local classrooms. Finally, a number of N.C.-based industries and research institutions are involved, including Duke Energy, Corning Corporation, FMC Corporation, Sealed Air, the N.C. Research Campus (Plants for Human Health) and Johnson & Wales University - Charlotte.

As the expo has grown over the years, a number of distinctive “shows within the show” have developed, including chemistry professor Tom “Dr. Boom” Schmedake’s always popular Combustion Chemistry Show; a special Robotics Expo inside the adjacent Popp Martin Student Union; and a short workshop in ethical hacking, presented by a student cybersecurity group. New this year (since the NCSF’s theme is “Science and Food”), a chef from JWU-Charlotte will explore the anatomical science and culinary art of meat, in a series of “Science of Pork” demonstrations/performances. A food truck will supply free samples after each show. Visitors can follow up the snacks with Nanodot Ice Cream, produced by UNC Charlotte’s Chemistry Department.

The UNC Charlotte Science and Technology Expo will be located on the University’s lower mall, across from the Popp Martin Student Union and adjacent to Halton Arena (Barnhardt Student Activity Center). The event is free and open to the public and all campus parking is free on Sundays (the Student Union Deck is the recommended parking venue).

Other N.C. Science Festival Events at UNC Charlotte

Man looks through a telescopeThe UNC Charlotte Observatory will again offer a night of expertly guided stargazing, as it hosts its annual N.C. Science Festival Star Party on Friday, April 20, starting at dusk. The party provides the public the chance to use several of the University’s larger telescopes for viewing exciting celestial objects and offers lots of other astronomy-related activities and displays for the kids. The event is free, but advance registration is required.

Because of continuing popular demand, UNC Charlotte will be offering a much-expanded series of educational workshops for children, priced at a nominal fee, on topics sure to engage learning. The workshops are all designed to provide age-flexible, high teacher-student ratio-learning experiences that kids and parents can have together. All workshops require advance registration – information on registration is on the web.

For the past three years, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Charlotte Area Robotics, an award-winning student organization, have offered full-day LEGO Robotics Workshops to rave reviews from children and parents. Because demand for LEGO Robotics has always exceeded enrollment capacity, the University is doubling the number of these events to two full weekends, with workshops now scheduled for April 7, 8, 14 and 15, running from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the labs of UNC Charlotte’s EPIC Building. These interactive educational experiences are the product of past experiments in using the LEGO Mindstorms building kits to teach introductory robotics skills. The events give kids in grades 3 to 12 the opportunity to learn robotics with expert guidance in small, multi-instructor staffed, age-appropriate classes. The instruction is age-specific for both children and an accompanying parents and costs $10 per child/parent pair to cover lunch, which is provided. Advance registration is required.

The Department of Chemistry will again present an interactive workshop for children ages 7 through 14, entitled “The Colors of Chemistry” in Burson Hall’s laboratories on April 7 and 21. This full-day workshop, designed to be a fun introduction to the science of chemistry, will enable students to learn about dyes, pigments and other colorful chemicals and make their own chromatic concoctions. Participants will conduct bright tie-dye and lather printing experiments and have the opportunity to watch exciting demonstrations while learning about atoms, molecules and polymers. Advance registration is required for both workshops, including $5 per student fee for lunch. All participants under 18 years of age must have an accompanying parent or designated adult (groups of up to three per adult permitted).

While all the workshops are educational and entertaining, some have important practical applications. On Saturday, April 14, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Department of Kinesiology will offer an Injury Prevention Workshop aimed at middle school athletes and their parents. This informative and interactive workshop offers kids in grades 6 through 8 the opportunity to learn how to prevent common injuries in the arms and legs, based on current exercise physiology research. Participants will learn how to properly warm-up to prepare their bodies for activity, how to perform multiple movement screening tasks, and what to do should an injury occur. Advance registration is required, including $5 per person fee for lunch, and all children must be accompanied by a parent or responsible adult. 

The workshop series also has some social focus. In today’s age of technology, computer programming is one of the most promising fields for bright young people, yet it remains overwhelmingly a male field. For this reason, the University is bringing back Computer Programming for Girls (April 21, 9 to 11 a.m.), an introductory workshop in computer coding, specifically designed for girls between the ages of 8 and 11. This engaging session, designed to show girls that programming is creative and fun, will demonstrate that learning how to program gives everyone the means to create and to make the world a better place.

During this two-hour interactive class, participants will learn how to write code with immediate visual feedback and to become part of an online community. Advance registration is required, including $5 per child fee (the workshop includes light refreshments). All children must be accompanied by a parent or responsible adult. Parents are encouraged to attend a parallel session, which will show them basic programming and discuss how to help their children to learn more at home.

Also on April 21, the University will offer a special, free Biotechnology Workshop for Teachers from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the life science labs of Woodward Hall.

This daylong professional development workshop for high school biology teachers is intended to be an introduction to the science and technology of genetic research and a pathway to introducing this cutting-edge knowledge into the high school classroom. All high school biology teachers are welcome but pre-approval is required for registration. Interested teachers should email for more information and registration.

Workshop registration is available on the web. Except for the workshops, all other UNC Charlotte N.C. Science Festival events are free and open to the public.

UNC Charlotte is sponsoring its N.C. Science Festival offerings, in association with the N.C. Science Festival. The UNC System, through a grant administered by the NC Science Festival, is providing major support, along with a grant from the N.C. Biotechnology Center. FMC also is an event sponsor. University sponsorship is through the UNC Charlotte Research and Economic Development Office.