From Visual Illusions to Strange Stuff and Battery-driven Cars of the Future: Yale Announces the Spring 2009 Science Saturdays Series

The public is invited both to listen and participate as three acclaimed scientists share the passion and excitement of their research in Yale’s Science Saturdays series. The presentations will be held on April 4, 11 and 18, from 10:30 a.m. to noon in Davies Auditorium of Becton Center, 15 Prospect Street.

While the talks and demonstrations are aimed at youngsters in middle school and above, they are free and open to curious “kids” of all ages.

Even before the talks begin, attendees will have the opportunity to experience the excitement of science as they enter the Becton Center lobby. There, students in “got science?” t-shirts will staff interactive stations that include viewing insects up close through a microscope, examining paper that changes color and metals that change shape when you heat them, solar cells in action, “super sponge” polymers that can hold lots of water and “magnetic stuff.”

 “Science is fun,” declares Ainissa G. Ramirez, an associate professor of mechanical engineering in the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science, who was inspired to create the popular series in 2004 while writing a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) “Understanding how things work and inventing and creating new possibilities are basic benefits of being a scientist. This program aims to show that and highlight a few of the areas that are making news now.”

The Science Saturdays series focuses on topics that are exciting, challenging and relevant to issues of everyday living. “It brings out the ‘face’ and ‘personality’ of scientists and their science – shattering stereotypes and creating a sense of ‘I understand that’ in the participants,” says Ramirez.

“Success of the series can be attributed to the Science Saturdays three D’s — demonstrations, donuts and dynamic lectures,” she added. To date 28 researchers have engaged participants with their projects and personal perspectives.

The Spring 2009 program includes:

April 4 — “Visual Illusions: What you see is not what you get” — presented by Professor Marvin Chun, a neuroscientist at Yale University
As director of Yale’s Visual Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Chun studies the brain mechanisms of visual attention, memory, and perception. While physicians have long used MRI technology to help diagnose and treat illness and disease, Chun uses MRI to understand why people behave the way they do. He will discuss how this technology is now helping to read the contents of thoughts and emotions, and even beginning to decipher the unconscious contents of the mind. His talk will look at questions like “Can we discriminate true memories from false memories?” “Can we determine whether someone is implicitly prejudiced or not?” and “Can we predict what kind of products a consumer would buy?”

April 11 — “Strange Stuff:From smart materials to nanotechnology” — presented by Professor Ainissa Ramirez, a materials scientist at Yale University
Ramirez will guide participants into the world of strange and important new materials with properties that can be altered by heat or by applying a magnetic field. She will discuss her research on metals with “memories” (or shape memory alloys) and her newest invention — a solder (or liquid metal) that can be shaped and manipulated into place with a magnetic field.She will also examine the questions “What the heck is nanotechnology?” and “Why is nanotechnology so important to all of us?”

April 18 — “Batteries, Transportation, and Climate Change: Why your future car will be electric” — presented by Professor Yet-Ming Chiang, a materials scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Chiang’s work focuses on technologies to alleviate the global crises of energy supply and climate change. He is a pioneer in rechargeable battery technology, and his research has led to new batteries now used in applications as different as cordless power tools and hybrid electric vehicles. He created the world’s largest lithium-ion battery for electric grid stabilization, and a motorcycle powered by his technology currently holds the world record for the quarter-mile all-electric-drive. He will answer the question “What’s in it for us?” in new energy storage and distribution devices.

Science Saturdays has expanded its original scope dramatically. Ramirez initially envisioned “a few talks that might draw an audience of about 50,” as the public outreach aspect of her NSF grant proposal. While the public response to Science Saturday has been overwhelming from the beginning, she notes, it has grown with each series. This series marks the first time Science Saturdays includes a scientist from another institution.

In addition to the live programs, there are Science Saturdays DVDs available for teachers and institutions. Past programs are streamed online; and the classroom demonstration book, called “Demoworks,” is available for download from the Science Saturdays website,

“It is exciting and tremendously rewarding to see the response this program has received from Yale and New Haven,” said Ramirez. “My bigger dream is to see Science Saturdays embraced in other universities.”

The program is supported in part by the Yale’s Provost Office, National Science Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Scienceworks. More information is available through the Science Saturdays coordinator, Patty Wooding at

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