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Experts Advisory: Star Wars’ Influence Helps Drive Technology, Space Exploration

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 20, 2015) -- A month before it opens, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens has already brought record-shattering advanced ticket sales and an explosion of merchandise and advertising.

R2D2 Visits NASA
Star Wars character R2-D2 has had a special connection with NASA as both a source of inspiration for rover technology and for promoting the agency's legacy. (Credit NASA/Lucasfilm)

But while the first the film launched a science fiction boom after arrived in theaters in 1977 -- including a major expansion in the way special effects and music are used in movies -- the more lasting effect may be a renewed sense of interest in the universe around us. Advances in robotics have allowed humans to put rovers on the surface of Mars to explore the origins of life, mirroring the exploits of the famous droid R2-D2. High tech satellites have relayed startling images of Pluto’s atmosphere back to scientists on Earth, while researchers are utilizing the Kepler observatory to find exoplanets orbiting stars light years away from our own solar system.

Researchers at the University at Albany are examining a variety of issues related to the origins of life and the existence of planetary systems outside of our own. They are available to comment on high tech robotics and space travel -- including human exploration of Mars, advances in satellite technology and the search for life on other planets. These experts include:

  • John Delano, Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences. Delano’s research has been primarily been funded by NASA dealing with chemical analysis of samples from the Moon returned by the six Apollo missions. Delano has served on scientific panels for NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF), and in 2004, he provided invited testimony to the President's Commission on Exploration of the Moon, Mars, and Beyond.
  • Kevin Knuth, Associate Professor of Physics. Knuth is a former NASA research scientist with 20 years of experience in applying Bayesian and maximum entropy methods to the design of machine learning algorithms for data analysis applied to the physical sciences. His research interests include the foundations of physics (quantum mechanics and relativity), autonomous robotics, and the search for and characterization of extrasolar planets, including developing methods that detect more subtle photometric effects than current techniques to improve both detection and characterization capabilities of the Kepler project.

In addition, UAlbany has expertise in pop culture, marketing, Japanese cultural influence and literary theory as related to the Star Wars phenomenon:

  • Mary Valentis, Lecturer of English. Joseph Campbell's The Hero with 1,000 Faces is often credited with inspiring Star Wars creator George Lucas. Center for Humanities and Technosciences director Mary Valentis offers insight into Campbell, the writer who most influenced the creation of Darth Vader and the mythology of Star Wars.
  • Suraj Commuri, Associate Professor of Marketing. With retail sales expected to reach $1.5 billion by the end of 2015, the market Star Wars-related merchandise remains as strong as ever. School of Business Associate Professor Suraj Commuri can discuss marketing trends, as well as brand counterfeiting and consumer-generated content, including the impact on Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping habits.
  • Susanna Fessler, Professor of East Asian Studies. While many children may ask for lightsaber toys for presents, it is the code of the Samurai that became the basis for the Jedi and Sith of Star Wars. Professor Fessler can explain the bushido code and the way of life of the warrior class in feudal Japan.
  • Richard Lachmann, Professor of Sociology. With moviegoers dusting off Han Solo and Princess Leia costumes all over the country, UAlbany Sociologist Richard Lachmann dissect the pop culture phenomena that turn grown adults into kids again and crosses social, political and international boundaries in the process.
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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.