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Randolph’s 2015 Science Festival draws thousands to campus

Using marshmallows and spaghetti noodles, Science Festival participants tried to build the tallest tower possible.

Using marshmallows and spaghetti noodles, Science Festival participants tried to build the tallest tower possible.

Thousands of people of all ages took advantage of a range of free activities during Randolph College’s 2015 Science Festival this weekend.

The event kicked off with Rebecca Thompson, head of public outreach from the American Physical Society (APS) and also author of the popular comic series, Spectra: The Laser Superhero. Thompson’s lecture on Thursday drew a packed house of attendees, who were treated to a discussion of the physics behind the movie, Frozen. In addition to seeing how to freeze water with the touch of their fingertips, audience members watched Thompson create a “snow storm” from liquid nitrogen.

Physicist Rebecca Thompson uses liquid nitrogen during her talk about the physics in the movie "Frozen" on Thursday evening.

Physicist Rebecca Thompson uses liquid nitrogen during her talk about the physics in the movie “Frozen” on Thursday evening.

“One of the thing about Science Festival is to bring the excitement and beauty of science to the public, and that’s what Rebecca specializes in,” said Peter Sheldon, a Randolph physics professor and the founder and organizer of the event. “She is really energetic, outgoing, and exciting.”

Thompson earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Bryn Mawr College and finished her Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin. Since then, she has worked with APS, bringing the joy of physics to people of all ages, developing the annual PhysicsQuest program for middle school students, and creating the comic series Spectra.

During her time at Randolph, Thompson also taught two classes for elementary and middle school students from various schools around the Lynchburg area. The young students were fired with enthusiasm as they worked with electrical circuits using Play-doh and LED lights.

Thompson said nearly everyone in the science field can recall a time when they were little and went to a science event that made them want to learn more. “I love that Randolph College is working so hard to give that experience to many children and adults as well,” she said.

Thompson also believes a liberal arts education is beneficial to scientists. “Most breakthroughs in scientific advances are from people who are coming from a different perspective,” she said. “I think that liberal arts students have a unique ability to do that because they spend so much time learning outside of their physics field.”

In addition to Thompson’s lecture and demonstrations, the Science Festival offered a variety of other activities, including a movie with a professor, the announcement and presentation of the poetry awards for elementary, middle, and high school students, and an alumnae panel. Science Day attracted one of its biggest crowds yet on Saturday, and Sunday featured several hours of hands-on science activities, a petting zoo, and inflatables, in addition to the Regional Cub Scout Pinewood Derby.



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