Explore UT showcases ‘unlimited potential’ of people

AUSTIN, Texas—Explore UT at The University of Texas at Austin has come to be known as "the biggest open house in Texas," and this year the activities at this free event on Saturday, March 2, were designed to inspire and capture the imaginations of visitors of all ages and backgrounds.

Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, president of The University of Texas at Austin, was among the hosts welcoming visitors to campus and encouraging them to participate in hands-on projects, demonstrations, performances, exhibitions and lectures from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“With its thousands of young people, magnificent architecture and rich intellectual life, this campus makes you proud to be a Texan,” said Faulkner. “It reminds us all of the unlimited potential of our state and our people. The University of Texas at Austin is committed to serving all Texans in the state's 254 counties.”

The event showcases the many colleges and disciplines around campus. It also provides an opportunity for professors to share with visitors from throughout Texas and beyond some of the wonders of their research that could find answers to new problems, as well as those that have plagued mankind since the beginning of civilization.

Harnessing energy, for example, has been a key to survival that has evolved from learning how to build a simple fire to developing powerful nuclear reactors. A problem in that evolutionary process is that some fossil fuel sources are being depleted, and there are concerns about global pollution.

Dr. Gary Vliet, a researcher at The University of Texas at Austin, is a strong believer in cleaner sources of energy like solar and wind power, and his work is helping to make these forms of power feasible and affordable to deal with the nation’s energy needs in the future.

A solar collector on the roof of one of the engineering buildings demonstrates just how powerful solar power can be. The dish-like device focuses the sun's rays on a small area. The heat is so intense, it will ignite or melt aluminum in a few seconds.

The solar collector was among the many demonstrations during the Explore UT event on campus. Student volunteers assisted in a hands-on workshop for youngsters in the third through seventh grades in assembling and racing model solar cars on the rooftop.

Vliet said his goal is to inspire interest in alternative energy.

“I think the younger generation ought to grow up with the idea of encouraging those kinds of uses of energy and encouraging conservation,” Vliet said. “In the future, there will be greater opportunities for them to work in those areas, and I think it would be good for them to learn more about it."

Vliet said he hopes people who visited his laboratory went home with the idea that there are ways to use renewable energy that are practical and economical, and that it helped them notice some of the ways it already is being used as an alternative energy source. He said he has had a solar water heating system at his house since 1977, and for more than two years has used solar panels to provide some of the electricity in his home.

“Wind is the biggest renewable energy source in Texas at this time,” Vliet said. “In West Texas, there are six to eight major wind energy projects” that are selling energy for use primarily in the Dallas area. He said wind energy technology is economical, and an increasing number of business people are willing to invest their money in these kinds of projects.

Other professors throughout campus shared their knowledge and provided demonstrations or materials in a variety of areas:

  • Professor Kara Kockelman talked about something that should be of interest to every motorist — “Inertia in Action.” The demonstration illustrated how energy travels from one object to another as it relates to traffic accidents.
  • Professor Darlene Wiley presented a demonstration of computerized voice recognition in the Center for Advanced Studies in the Arts.
  • Professor Amarante Lucero demonstrated the newest technology in theatrical lighting design.
  • More than 800 years before Bram Stoker's Dracula, the word "vampire" appears in medieval Russian text. Through a discussion of art, literature and film imagery, Professor Thomas Garza traced the appearance of vampires in Russian and Eastern European cultures.

For information about Explore UT, see the Explore UT Web site.