The 2022 Faculty Research and Creative Activity Slam, part of Nebraska Research Days, covered lots of ground Tuesday in its series of engaging five-minute, no-PowerPoint-allowed talks.
Shireen Adenwalla and Xiaoshan Xu of physics and astronomy and Stephen Lahey of classics and religious studies were among six faculty across campus who competed.
Rediscovering the magic of science
Adenwalla and Xu pitched their Funsize Physics website, which aims to recapture for people of all ages the childlike wonders of science. Xu recalled his introduction to science at age 8 when his older brother built a radio powered by electromagnetic waves, and Adenwalla reflected on her childhood dreams of walking on the moon.
“The wonder of science in childhood, whether you go on to be a scientist or not, shapes us,” Xu said. “The magic of science to a child is powerful. We all have experiences of nature and science that cause us to see the world differently.”
“Children explore the world through experimentation—pushing food off their highchair, poking around in the dirt, tasting everything. Where does this sense of exploration go as they get older, and how can we keep it alive,” Adenwalla said.
Funsize Physics aims to encourage and nurture that interest in science—though, as their matching sweatshirts warned, it’s “not responsible for any minds blown.”
Translating science to the public
Lahey’s “Translating the Language of Science” made connections from his own recovery from a cerebral hemorrhage to the way humans translate, not just languages but ideas and actions.
“‘Translate’ means to carry across. You start thinking according to one pattern, and then rearrange the idea so it fits into another pattern,” he said.
The Cotner College Professor of classics and religious studies said scientists struggle to explain their work to lay audiences, a shortcoming recently evident in public misunderstanding and disinformation about COVID vaccines.
“If scientists hope to convey the extraordinary advances they have come upon, they must do more to translate their thinking than simply to describe it. One might as well summarize Hamlet’s soliloquy as ‘He’s pretty depressed.’”