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Science Festival to entertain and educate community in Dahlonega

Megan Foley, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of North Georgia, prepares for a termite demonstration in front of students. Several science-based faculty members will be accessible to the public during the inaugural UNG Science Festival from March 23-25 in Dahlonega.

Whether it is gazing at the stars in the George E. Coleman Sr. Planetarium, designing objects with a 3D printer, listening to a NASA physicist, or engaging with robots, children and adults alike will be able to get their fill of science at University of North Georgia's (UNG) Science Festival.

Funded by a Presidential Innovation Award, the inaugural event will run from Friday, March 23, to Sunday, March 25, on UNG's Dahlonega Campus and sites nearby on Dahlonega's downtown square. Events include planetarium shows, science talks from UNG faculty and guests, science panels, and guest authors.

Authors scheduled to speak are NASA physicist Les Johnson, Emory University paleontologist Anthony Martin and James Costa, executive director of the Highlands Biological Station in North Carolina. Their inclusion is a result of a collaboration between the UNG Science Festival and the Dahlonega Literary Festival, which falls on the same weekend.

"It was a happy accident," said Dr. Sonny Mantry, assistant professor of physics at UNG, referring to the both festivals falling on the same weekend.

Dr. Donna Governor, assistant professor of science education at UNG, explained the idea for the festival came out of the Science Café, which is a social hour and dinner followed by a guest speaker talking about scientific subjects.

"At one of the Science Café events, I mentioned sponsoring a science festival to Sonny,” Governor said. "I didn't expect him to bite, but he did. So here we are."

The two reached out to other science-based faculty and staff members to help plan and participate in the science festival. Dr. Lesley Simanton-Coogan, lecturer of physics at UNG and planetarium director, volunteered to help on both counts.

"The point of the planetarium is to do outreach with the community and get people excited about science, and with the planetarium you could not get a more perfect fit than with the festival," she said.

Simanton-Coogan said the planetarium will present its current Friday night show "IBEX: Search for the Edge of the Solar System" along with two new shows that she wrote. They are "Harry Potter Astronomy" and "Meet the Dwarf Planets." She said the current show focuses on the Interstellar Boundary Explorer mapping the edge of the solar system plus views of the current night sky and recent discoveries.

She explained "Harry Potter Astronomy" will look at the astronomy class and characters mentioned in Harry Potter books written by J.K. Rowling. The second, "Meet the Dwarf Planets," will focus on Pluto and other objects like it.

"We will learn about what dwarf planets are and what they look like," Simanton-Coogan said.

Children and adults attending the UNG Science Festival will not be the only ones learning. UNG students will survey participants for feedback about the festival.

"We want to know why they are coming and what they are getting out of it," said Dr. Gina Childers, assistant professor of secondary education. "We also want to know what works and what doesn't and what will bring them back next year."

The main goal for the organizers of the UNG Science Festival, however, is to bridge the gap between science and the community.

"We want to make science accessible and fun," Childers said.

For more information, visit the Dahlonega Science Council website and click on the science festival tab or visit the UNG Planetarium webpage on the festival.

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