Physics & Engineering Festival provides hands-on fun

The Department of Physics and Astronomy and Department of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University invite audiences across Texas to get up-close and personal with science and technology this Saturday (March 22) at the 2014 Physics & Engineering Festival, an entertaining and informative weekend scientific extravaganza for all ages.

No fees or tickets are required for the free annual event from 10 a.m. to 6 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 5 p.m. public lecture by internationally recognized astronomer and author of Slate magazine's Bad Astronomy blog Dr. Phil Plait about his most recent book, "Death from the Skies!"

Throughout the day, 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. The Departments of Physics and Astronomy and Aerospace Engineering will be joined by representatives from the Departments of Chemistry, Mathematics, Atmospheric Sciences, and Biochemistry and Biophysics.

For the second 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. More than 60 DEEP students were involved in creating the new demos, and many will be on hand to present their work.

In addition to exhibits, the daylong festival will feature three fantastic performances of the Science Circus (11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m.) by physics showman Rhys Thomas, who teaches Newtonian physics through a rare blend of science, comedy and circus arts in a performance often compared to a Pixar movie. Attendees also will have the opportunity to meet 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, as well as Nobel Prize-winning Texas A&M physicists Dr. Dudley R. Herschbach andDr. David M. Lee 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 5 p.m., Plait will close out the festivities with a keynote presentation based on his 2008 book, "Death from the Skies!" in the primary lecture hall of the Mitchell Physics Building. Plait, a well-known astronomer, writer and science advocate who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, will discuss the various ways in which the human race could be rendered extinct by astronomical phenomena -- asteroid impacts, supernovae explosions, solar flares and gamma ray bursts -- and also explain the science behind each possibility.

Prior to Saturday's events, Dr. Carter Emmart, director of astrovisualization at the American Museum of Natural History, will deliver a free public lecture, "We Are the 4%!" on Friday (March 21) at 7 p.m. in the Hawking Auditorium. Tickets are not required for the event, in which Emmart will demonstrate the Digital Universe 3D Atlas, the same software he developed for use in the museum's world-famousHayden Planetarium. Emmart also will show clips from their recent production "Dark Universe" detailing how we now know so much more than meets both eye and instrument about the known universe, which amounts only to roughly four percent of it.

All events are sponsored by a Texas A&M Tier One Program (TOP) grant, the Department of Physics and Astronomy, theDepartment of Aerospace Engineering, the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy, and the Texas A&M College of Science. The event is an affiliate festival of the 4th annual USA Science and Engineering Festival.

For the latest details regarding the 2014 Physics & Engineering Festival, including event directions and parking information, please visithttp://physicsfestival.tamu.edu.