Department of Physics

Professors from the Physics Department participated in recent Northeast Trek Con

In fall of last year, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, which has inspired so many modern-day scientists and engineers to pursue careers in STEM fields in the first place, local Albany resident and extreme Trekker Jerry Silber, fearless leader of the Northeast Star Trek Meetup group, organized the Northeast Trek Con at the Radisson Hotel Albany, November 11-13, 2016.

Mr. Silber was assisted in this endeavor by Prof. Matthew Szydagis and Prof. Kevin Knuth of the University at Albany Department of Physics, who organized the scientific program. The weekend-long convention featured an array of special guest star actors and actresses from the various Star Trek series and films, as any Star Trek convention would be expected to have.  However, Profs. Knuth and Szydagis worked with Silber to have a continuous track of public science talks.<

These science talks, which focused on real-life science, inspired by the Star Trek universe, or vice versa, involved a wide variety of speakers, many from the local academic departments of UAlbany, RPI, and Union College, not limited to physics but also covering topics as diverse as biology, climatology, and artificial intelligence. UAlbany faculty giving talks, besides Knuth and Szydagis, included Vivek Jain, Oleg Lunin, Alexander Khmaladze, and Philip Goyal of physics, and George Berg of computer science.  Prof. Knuth, whose research involves the search for exoplanets, spoke on the possibilities of interstellar travel, capitalizing in particular on relativistic time dilation, while Prof. Szydagis, whose research involves searching for the theoretical but well-established (through indirect observations) form of matter known as dark matter, spoke instead of the real physics possibilities of time travel, into the past. Prof. Jain covered high-energy particle physics at the Large Hadron Collider, Prof. Lunin discussed black holes, Prof. Khmaladze presented on the topic of digital holographic microscopy, Prof. Goyal provided an introduction to quantum computing, and Prof. Berg gave a presentation on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and 3D Printing. 

Prof. Knuth invited Prof. Peter Janssen from the University of Arizona, and founder of the Tricorder Prize, to give a special presentation on the development of the Tricorder. Prof. Knuth also invited Dr. Frank Kuehnel of Google to give a special presentation on AI. Additional speakers included: Prof. Heidi Newberg and Prof. Ethan Brown of RPI, as well as Valerie Rapson, Ben Placek, Mark Lowery, Richard Binzel, Harry Ringermacher, and Chad Orzel. In addition to the traditional panel format used in most cons, a single-speaker seminar/colloquium style, set at a level accessible to the general public, was uniquely employed as well.  Prof. Szydagis created the popular poster/flyer for the event, which was signed by all of the Hollywood celebrities present and then auctioned off for charity.  

Prof. Szydagis also hosted a game show with Star Trek trivia questions, with winners of a different auction selected to play the game on two-person teams with the stars.  Prof. Knuth was judge of answer accuracy, and was hilariously mistaken for William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk) by Star Trek actor J.G. Hertzler (Klingon General Martok, et al.), who stomped out of the room “to get a drink” at one point when he produced the correct answer for a clue but was disqualified by Prof. Szydagis, for not expressing it in the proper form of a question!

Over 500 people came of all ages and from all walks of life, from all over the country. After the game show, a cosplay contest saw Trekkers parading about in wonderful costumes including rich alien characters, of varying degrees of originality, all the way up to 100% home-made. 

For more information, please see the Times Union Article and UAlbany News Release

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