Jodi Cooley and Stephen Sekula are married physicists who study some of the most exotic phenomena in the universe.
Cooley studies dark matter, invisible stuff in the cosmos that exerts a gravitational pull on galaxies. Sekula was part of the team that discovered the Higgs boson, a new particle that enables other particles to acquire mass, at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland in 2012.
This fall, Cooley and Sekula, professors at Southern Methodist University, will be among some two dozen experts who will share their research with the community in a series of free online events hosted by The Dallas Morning News. Their Nov. 14 event, “From a Trampoline to the Unseen: What a Rubber Sheet Can Teach Us About the Dark Universe,” will focus on black holes.
“From a Trampoline to the Unseen” is part of Science in the City, a partnership among The Dallas Morning News, SMU, UT Southwestern Medical Center, the Dallas-based education nonprofit talkSTEM, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth. The series is a unique set of meet-and-greets between scientists and the public. Its goal is to inform and engage the community in the advances percolating across Dallas-Fort Worth.
The Dallas Morning News and its partners launched Science in the City in the spring of 2018. After two successful years, the COVID-19 pandemic forced its cancellation earlier this year, and Science in the City partners decided to reimagine the series as a virtual one.
“Making science accessible to people is so important, because it’s what creates advances,” said Jennifer Zientz, head of clinical services at the Center for BrainHealth.
Zientz and her team will discuss their research on how to improve brain performance. In “BrainHealth in the 21st Century: The Next Frontier” (Nov. 5) they will talk about how to define, measure and improve brain health. Participants will also get a virtual tour of the UTD BrainHealth Imaging Center, which houses functional MRI scanners that measure blood flow to the brain and help scientists assess changes in brain function over time.
“We want our science to empower people so they can take charge of their brain’s health and performance, rather than ignoring it,” said Zientz. She and her colleagues have learned there are steps people can take to delay cognitive decline and prime their minds for peak performance, including deeper levels of thinking. They’ll share these tools with participants.
Brains will also figure prominently at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s “Spooky Science” (Oct. 31). In years past, UT Southwestern welcomed participants into labs where researchers investigate Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart disease and concussions. This year, the tours will be virtual and Halloween-themed.
Attendees will see real human brains and learn about their structure. They will also peer virtually through microscopes to watch living cells in action. The cells will glow a ghostly green color, thanks to a Nobel Prize-winning discovery involving a fluorescent protein found in jellyfish. “We want adults and kids to be able to enjoy the fun of science as well as learn serious things about how we understand the brain and the body, using the same techniques as scientists,” said Dr. Mark Goldberg, a neurologist and stroke expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute.
At the Perot Museum of Nature and Science’s virtual event, participants will meet experts on dinosaurs and minerals. In “From Discovery to Display!” (Oct. 29) Ron Tykoski, director of the museum’s paleontology lab, and Kimberly Vagner, director of its gems and minerals center, will explain how scientists find rare gems and fossils, recover them and prepare them for installation in a museum. “It’d be really easy if we could go down to Walmart and just pick up a dinosaur or an incredible mineral specimen off the shelf, but it would also be really terrible for job security,” joked Tykoski. “There’s an incredible amount that goes into this. Sometimes it takes years to bring something to light.”
Koshi Dhingra, founder of the education nonprofit talkSTEM, will lead an event aimed at middle school girls, their parents or guardians, and educators. “Art, Medicine and Potato Chips: Finding Science Everywhere” (Nov. 7) will feature a discussion among four women leaders, including a doctor who runs clinical trials for COVID-19 treatments, an author of popular young adult novels, an education leader and an engineer who develops snack foods for PepsiCo. The goal is to diversify the popular image of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) expert, said Dhingra. “STEM activities don’t just happen in labs, and they don’t just happen in hospitals,” she said. “Those are important areas where they happen. But if we give kids the message that that’s the only place they happen, and if kids don’t identify with those spaces, that tends to be the end of the story.” The event will also include a hands-on design activity and a virtual walk through the Dallas Arts District, where girls will be asked to think about the mathematical patterns and concepts they encounter in everyday life, including in art, architecture and nature.
The bigger goal of the program is to excite people about science and raise awareness of Dallas as a capital of scientific innovation. “We’re always trying to get out the stories of science, the incredible things that are happening right here that so many people in our area are unfortunately unaware of,” said Tykoski of the Perot Museum. “Science in the City is a great way to highlight this and make people aware of what a wonderful place Dallas is for research and discovery.”
For more information and to register for these free events, visit http://scienceinthecity.dallasnews.com/
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science’s “From Discovery to Display!”
Thursday, Oct. 29, at 1 p.m. Age range: for families.
UT Southwestern Medical Center’s “Spooky Science”
Saturday, Oct. 31, at 10 a.m. Age range: all ages.
Center for BrainHealth’s “Brain Health in the 21st Century: The Next Frontier”
Thursday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m. Age range: high school and older.
talkSTEM’s “Art, Medicine and Potato Chips: Finding Science Everywhere”
Saturday, Nov. 7, at 10:30 a.m. Age range: aimed at middle-school girls and their parents or guardians.
Southern Methodist University’s “From a Trampoline to the Unseen: What a Rubber Sheet Can Teach Us About the Dark Universe”
Saturday, Nov. 14, at 1 p.m. Age range: aimed at middle and high-school students.