Football and physics enthusiasts alike gathered in the UC Ballroom on Saturday to attend the College of Arts and Science's Pregame Showcase.
Using Neyland Stadium as a point of reference, Saturday's keynote speaker, Kate Jones, Ph.D, associate professor in the physics department, discussed "Star Dust and Atom Smashers" to 117 students and alumni.
Theresa Lee, Ph.D, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, explained the purpose of the Pregame Showcase program.
"The showcases are designed to rotate through a variety of different departments," Lee said. "We go through all of the departments over the course of a few years and find people who are doing interesting work and are able to communicate well with the public."
Likening the nucleus to a football in the center of Neyland Stadium, Jones explained the nuances of quantum and cosmic scales.
The electrons that circle this nucleus would be located at McGhee Tyson Airport on Alcoa Highway. If the Sun were a marble in the center of Neyland, Earth would be a grain of sand one yard away, the edge of the solar system would be fifty yards away and the closest star would be in Nashville.
Jones also introduced the 117 attendees to the r-process. When a star dies, a supernova explosion is triggered. This nuclear phenomenon causes an excess of free-flowing neutrons, encouraging nuclear fusion.
Physics has always been close to Jones' heart, she admitted; not only for complex theories, but also its concern for humanity's most basic questions.
“I am passionate about the origin of the elements and learning where everything came from,” she said.
Scientists, Jones joked, are no more than curious children.
“At some point no one has the answer, and we have to go out and find it.”
Her passion for discovery extends to teaching students.
“One of the best things for me is seeing the eyes of students light up when something clicks in their head,” Jones said.
Art Mitchell, a Knoxville native and retired chemical engineer from the Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, has been to a handful of Pregame showcases. Mitchell regarded the r-process as one of the most interesting topics from the lecture.
“I’ve never heard that before,” Mitchell said. “I’ve heard a lot of others, but that was new to me.”
Such moments of discovery encompasses the purpose of the Pregame Showcase program.
In Lee's opinion, speakers do their best to relate their academic topics to attendees, hoping they'll leave campus talking about more than penalties and touchdowns. However, the lectures are designed with the attendee in mind.
"Usually the speakers know their audience is here to watch football," she said.
A Pregame Showcase is scheduled approximately two hours before kickoff of every home football game. For information on upcoming showcases, click here.