Penn stars in West Philly Science Showcase

It’s called University City for a reason: Penn’s academic neighbors include Drexel University, the University of the Sciences, the Monell Chemical Senses Center, the University City Science Center, and the Wistar Institute.  

With so much research acumen in a few square blocks, it was only natural for the Philadelphia Science Festival to bring representatives from these institutions together for an event dubbed the West Philly Science Showcase.  

Taking place downstairs at World Cafe Live on Tuesday, April 29, at 6 p.m., the showcase will feature 10 speakers holding forth on a wide range of topics in a series of rapid-fire, TED-style talks.  

An offshoot of the Penn Science Café and the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter’s Science Café, the event features five presenters from Penn. 

West Philly Science Showcase

Johannes Eichstaedt, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology in Penn Arts & Sciences, will talk about an ambitious study that uses Facebook status messages to predict users’ personality traits.  

Charlie Johnson, director of the Nano/Bio Interface Center and a professor of physics in Penn Arts & Sciences, will describe his research on “cyborg” biosensors, which are made by attaching DNA, olfactory receptors, and other biological structures to super-sensitive materials, like carbon nanotubes.

Raina Merchant, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, will show off her interdisciplinary project to map the emergency defibrillators located around the city, and then use public art to draw attention to them so they can be quickly found in the critical moments after a heart attack. 

Andrew Rappe, a professor of chemistry in Penn Arts & Sciences, will discuss the frontiers of solar power, and how taking the design of solar panels in an entirely new direction might get them the efficiency boost they need.

In between these talks, Bill Berner, lab director for the Department of Physics and Astronomy in Penn Arts & Sciences, will be doing his signature “electrifying” physics demonstrations, which he has previously taken on the road for local elementary, middle, and high schools.   

Beyond Penn, attendees can hear talks on making better beer through biotechnology from Matthew Farber of the University of the Sciences, the cutting edge of cancer biology by Maureen Murphy of the Wistar Institute, handheld devices for monitoring food safety from Benjamin Pascal of the Science Center, information security in the digital age from Matthew Stamm of Drexel, and current efforts to restore people’s sense of smell from Meera Vinjamuri of Monell. 

Tickets for the West Philly Science Showcase are $5 online and $7 at the door. A full events listing for the Philadelphia Science Festival, which begins on Friday, April 25, is also available online.

Originally published on April 24, 2014