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UNC Science Expo returns to Morehead Planetarium this weekend

Science Fest 05.jpg

Spot, an agile mobile robot from Boston Dynamics, wows the crowd at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center as part of UNC Science Expo on Saturday, April 9, 2022.

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Russell UNC Research.

Throughout April, researchers and organizations from across the state will come together to celebrate and share scientific discoveries with the public through hands-on activities, as part of the month-long North Carolina Science Festival.

As a kickoff to the festival, the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center will be hosting its annual UNC Science Expo on April 1. 

“This will be basically a street fair of science, celebrating all the amazing research and diversity of UNC’s science departments and many other departments as well,” Will Freund, community engagement specialist at the Morehead Planetarium, said.

More than 100 booths from over 50 UNC organizations will be set up to encourage participants to engage with scientific concepts through games, demonstrations and other creative means. The Science Festival has been a yearly occurrence since 2010 and is recognized as one of the largest celebrations of science in the state.

Event coordinators are expecting over 8,000 attendees this year, compared to fewer than 5,000 last year, Freud said. The Science Expo had previously been canceled due to pandemic protocols.

“It's an opportunity for the science community to just share and engage with the public, and to help the public feel more engaged in the science that is happening in their community, and also help them understand the kind of research that is happening around them,” Freund said.

The theme for this year’s Science Fest is “Full STEAM Ahead,” to emphasize the role of the arts as a part of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The Ackland Art Museum will be hosting several booths, in addition to stage acts and live musicians.

Chemistry Department Chairperson Wei You will be hosting a booth at the Science Expo on Saturday to showcase his lab’s work in developing solar cells. You hopes to educate the public about how sunlight is converted into energy and how faculty research has the potential to change the world for the better.

“We spend a lot of time trying to work on research, and not only because we're interested — it's actually going to be beneficial to mankind in many ways,” You said.

Richard Superfine, a UNC professor of applied physical sciences, will also be running a booth at the expo. Attendees will attempt to create structures out of toothpicks and gumdrops that can hold a significant amount of weight to demonstrate the mechanics of biological materials like cells.

Superfine and his lab associates have hosted this booth for several years and have found that community members of all ages enjoy engaging with it.

“I think curiosity about the world around you is very natural,” Superfine said. “And, I think all we have to do is to give spaces for kids to enjoy themselves around their curiosity. And if they do that, it'll keep growing and they will feel empowered to learn about the world around them.”

Freund also highlighted the importance of giving researchers the opportunity to connect with the community.

“This is their time to help share their story, share their passions with the broader public and help build a more informed and equitable scientific community across UNC and North Carolina more broadly,” he said.

The UNC Science Expo is free and open to members of the public of all ages. Throughout the month of April, the North Carolina Science Festival will be continuing at locations across the state. The Morehead Planetarium will also be hosting additional events as the festival continues.

“The best part is seeing kids out having fun and starting to learn that science can be fun,” Superfine said.

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