GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida’s departments of astronomy, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and the Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences will participate in the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., Saturday and Sunday.
The theme of the UF booth is “Gators in Space,” where displays and interactive activities will be used to explain how astronomy and engineering allow a better understanding of the universe and life on Earth.
At the UF booth, Expo visitors will have the opportunity to build their own working telescopes, experience the physical principles needed to control a spacecraft, and handle samples of simulated Lunar and Martian regolith (planetary “soil”) and the palm-sized plant system launched to the International Space Station.
Static and dynamic displays will show how the university is using cutting-edge science and technology to provide solutions to challenges that the world is facing. The booth will have displays of the hardware used for the exploration of space: SwampSat, the first 4-inch-cubed satellite designed and built at UF; a scale model of the Gran Telescopio Canarias, the world’s largest telescope, used by UF astronomers for their research: an orbital plant growth facility and a clinostat (ground-based hardware used to disrupt the effect of gravity sensing in biology). Students and researchers will be available to demonstrate and discuss each of these items.
The USA Science & Engineering Festival is the country’s only national science festival. Its aim is to increase the public’s awareness of the importance of science and to encourage youths to pursue careers in science and engineering. The fair is a month-long celebration, culminating in a two-day exposition including 100 live performances and 3,000 different hands-on activities by more than 500 of the nation’s leading science and engineering organizations. It is free and open to the public.
“The previous Expo held in October of 2010 was a celebration of science; we had many visitors attending the UF booth, including a number of UF alumni. They were very impressed with the kinds of science and engineering projects that were coming out of their alma mater,” said Ata Sarajedini, professor of astronomy who is the overall coordinator of the UF group.
“We have created an official twitter @GatorsinSpace so people can follow all of our activities,” said Dante Buckley, a participating UF engineering doctoral student who is also a member of professor Norman Fitz-Coy’s SwampSat team.
Eric Schultz, an IFAS doctoral student in the space biology program of Robert Ferl and Anna-Lisa Paul, is excited about the opportunity to show visitors advances in biological research in space,
“This is a great opportunity to promote interest in the biological sciences and to educate the public about the benefits of astrobiology and extraterrestrial research in general,”
The Florida Museum of Natural History will be featured in the international division of the science fair by the National Science Foundation-funded Panama Canal PIRE project, which supports excavation of the Panama Canal during construction to widen and straighten the channel and build new locks.
The dig is expected to continue through 2014 and the project supports development of partnerships between the U.S. and Panama and engagement of the next generation of scientists in paleontological and geological discoveries along the canal. Eight researchers, including seven from the Florida Museum, will present information at an exhibit booth that includes graduate students’ posters, fossils displayed under a microscope and a live broadcast using Skype with researchers excavating at one of the quarries inside the Panama Canal.
“We’re beginning to know the fauna down there as a result of this work,” said lead principal investigator Bruce MacFadden, vertebrate paleontology curator at the Florida Museum.“It’s a tremendous honor for our PCP Pire project to be chosen as one of the projects that feature NSF-funded research and education.”
The participation of UF at this festival has been made possible by the UF provost’s office, department of astronomy, Florida Space Grant Consortium, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the Office of Admissions.