Out of this World

Science FestivalA former astronaut and Lynchburg native will kick off Randolph’s sixth annual Science Festival in March. The multi-day event, begun by a physics professor passionate about sharing his love of science, has morphed over the years to include popular activities for every age group.

This year’s festival features remote-control drones, a 3.14-mile Pi Day race, a movie with scientific commentary, hands-on experiments for children, and more.

While the Pi Run will take place early on March 14, the rest of the festival is scheduled for March 27–30.

“It was a one-day event when I was here my first year,” said Tim Slesinger ’14, chair of the Science Festival. “This year, it’s going to be almost a week-long event and draw over 2,000 people, easily.” The Science Festival was created in 2009 as a way to expand on Science Day, a free event begun by students in 2005.

“We do this so they get an idea of what science is when they’re young,” Slesinger said. “If you know what science is and what it can be when you’re young, then you’re more likely to want to know about it when you grow up.”

Peter Sheldon, a physics professor, first organized the Science Festival because he wanted to spark an interest in science in all age groups. His idea has proven popular. By 2013, about 1,500 people were participating in
Science Festival events.

“The mission of Science Festival is to show people that science is fun, relevant to all areas of life, and important for everyone to understand,” Sheldon said. “We hold the only event in the region where people can come and learn, be entertained, and be informed about various areas in science.”

In addition to the Pi Run and drone races, the new activities this year include a science-themed photography contest, which is being held in conjunction with a science poetry contest for K–12 students. The poetry competition drew more than 1,200 entries last year.

Leland Melvin, a former astronaut, will provide the keynote address on March 27 in Smith Hall Theatre. Melvin grew up in Lynchburg and served as an astronaut on two space missions. He recently retired from an education position with NASA.

Sheldon said Melvin will bring a wide variety of experiences as well as connect with the local audience. “He’s a very impressive guy,” Sheldon said. “He was a professional football player who fell back on his education in engineering when he could no longer play due to injuries. He has a really impressive set of credentials.

“We are so lucky to have this hometown hero come back to speak on our campus,” he added.