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Night at the Museum

Lindsay Zanno leads a lab tour

It was a real-life night at the museum, minus Ben Stiller.

More than 600 College of Sciences alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends took over the Nature Research Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on April 8 for the College’s annual State of the Sciences event.

This was the first year the event was held at the museum, with which the College shares faculty and has a close partnership. The location and format, which featured lab tours, faculty demos and presentations by alumni, drew enthusiastic reviews from guests, many of whom were attending the event for the first time.

“My family had a blast, enjoyed the great food, learned so much and met some new friends,” said Scott Troutman, an alumnus from the Department of Chemistry who brought his two sons, ages 8 and 15. “The interactive displays were fun, and enjoying the museum during a private event was a great experience.”

The evening was also many attendees’ first exposure to the Nature Research Center, the newest wing of the museum that opened in 2012. To complement the main part of the museum, which showcases what we know about the natural world, the center was designed to engage the public in how science is done.

The takeover was also a signature event of the North Carolina Science Festival, a 17-day statewide celebration of science and technology,

“It was a fantastic way to kick off the 2016 NC Science Festival and probably one of the best science festival events I’ve ever attended,” said Denise Young, co-founder of the festival.

State of the Sciences featured a number of different ways for attendees to have fun while experiencing science. While some visitors enjoyed a biscuit bar, other appetizers and craft beer, others interacted with more than 15 science demonstrations by faculty and students from every area of the College, including making DNA bracelets, observing weather instruments and playing statistics-based video games.

Visitors also enjoyed tours of two of the center’s working lab spaces led by Lindsay Zanno, head of the Paleontology Research Lab, and Adrian Smith, head of the Evolutionary Biology and Behavior Lab. Both Zanno and Smith are jointly appointed to the College’s faculty.

“I particularly enjoyed the tour of the dinosaur research room,” said Aimee Tattersall, a math alumna and member of the College’s Alumni Advisory Board. “The talk was fascinating, and I learned a lot about the work NC State and the museum are doing out in the field to find and document new dinosaur species.”

Other highlights were presentations in the museum’s SECU Daily Planet Theater by three distinguished College alumni. Michael Brennan, senior meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center, discussed his work tracking hurricanes and shared photos of the eyes of these powerful storms. Josh Katz, graphics editor with The New York Times’ data visualization site, “The Upshot,” described how he uses infographics to tell stories on everything from the distribution of dialects in the U.S. to the presidential election.

And alongside her mentor, Dave Shultz of the Department of Chemistry, Tashni-Ann Dubroy, president of Shaw University, described her inspirational path from studying chemistry at NC State to working as a chemist, becoming an entrepreneur and eventually being selected as Shaw’s youngest-ever president.

The event was designed to be family-friendly, with a number of science demos that appealed to children, as well as activities like a temporary tattoo station and a photo booth. Another highlight was viewing the moon through a high-powered telescope on the roof of the building.

“It was great to be at a kid-friendly event and see children so interested in science,” Tattersall said.

“We saw this event as a great chance to engage adults and kids of all ages in the College’s work while showing them that science can be fun and interesting,” said Marla Gregg, director of development for alumni and donor relations for the College. “Our faculty and students are amazing, and we wanted people to have the chance to interact with them and enjoy this great venue.”