Staying home? See a frozen banana used as a hammer. Watch a lecture on black holes

Release Date: November 5, 2020


BUFFALO, N.Y. — As families across Western New York look for engaging activities to do together at home, here’s an idea for the first Saturday in November: Spend the morning watching live science demos by University at Buffalo students, including one that uses a frozen, ripe banana to hammer a nail. Then, at noon, learn about black holes from an engineer from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The event — Science and Engineering Exploration Day — will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Zoom on Saturday, Nov. 7. It’s part of the Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) Community Schools’ Virtual Saturday Academy series, but kids, teenagers and adults anywhere are welcome to attend.

To register, visit and select the Nov. 7 session. The deadline to sign up is Nov. 6.

The Nov. 7 program kicks off the 45th International Conference on Infrared, Millimeter, and Terahertz Waves, which brings together hundreds of scientists from many countries to discuss the science and technology of long-wavelength radiation. UB is hosting the conference this year from Nov. 8-13.

The schedule for the Nov. 7 Science and Engineering Exploration Day:

10 a.m. to noon: UB students will give live science demos, such as:

  • Fun at low temperature: Using a ripe banana as a hammer to drive a nail in a wooden board. Making a magnetic object float (by cooling a superconductor to -320 degrees Fahrenheit using liquid nitrogen).
  • It’s high voltage: ‘Magical’ display of wireless transmission of electricity and the creation of musical lightning.
  • The mystery of lights: Seeing light traveling in a straight line; bending light; and, finally, using light as tweezers to “grab” objects.
  • And several more…

As scientists “change the stage” between demonstrations, UB physics, math and engineering students will answer questions about careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Noon: Jonathan Weintroub, PhD, an electrical engineer and scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, will give a talk on black holes. Weintroub is part of the Event Horizon Telescope, an international collaboration, which in 2019 produced the first-ever image of a black hole.

“The underlying science will be appealing to middle and high school students who are interested in STEM,” says Priya Banerjee, assistant professor of physics in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. “However, a younger audience will enjoy the event as a magic show. My 5-year-old, who is a kindergartener, will be in the audience. He already saw two science demos, and he liked them.”

UB students and faculty planned the Saturday event in partnership with BPS and Say Yes Buffalo. The UB organizers include:

  • Alexander Bivolcic, a graduate student in physics
  • Teresa Bompczyk, an undergraduate studying computational physics
  • Alyssa Bortfeldt, an undergraduate studying electrical engineering
  • Sarah Brown, an undergraduate studying physics and applied math
  • Drew Gold, an undergraduate studying electrical engineering
  • Lauren Kim, an undergraduate studying physics
  • Paul Pullara, an undergraduate studying physics
  • Alex Quinn, an undergraduate studying physics
  • Hannah Seppala, an undergraduate studying physics and math
  • Felix Wong, an undergraduate studying electrical engineering
  • Priya Banerjee, PhD, assistant professor of physics
  • John Cerne, PhD, professor of physics
  • Serdar Gozpinar, PhD, clinical assistant professor of physics

Organizers of the 45th International Conference on Infrared, Millimeter, and Terahertz Waves include:

  • Conference chair Andrea Markelz, PhD, UB professor of physics
  • Conference co-chair Erik Einarsson, PhD, UB associate professor of electrical engineering, and materials design and innovation
  • Conference technical program chair Frank Hegmann, PhD, University of Alberta professor of physics
  • Local organizing committee members, including Banerjee; Cerne; Peter Q. Liu, PhD, assistant professor of electrical engineering; Vladimir Mitin, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering; Tim Thomay, PhD, assistant professor of physics; Martin Trebbin, PhD, Empire Innovation Assistant Professor in the UB Department of Chemistry and connected to the BioXFEL Science and Technology Center and UB RENEW Institute; and Luis Velarde, PhD, associate professor of chemistry.


Media Contact Information

Charlotte Hsu is a former staff writer in University Communications. To contact UB's media relations staff, email or visit our list of current university media contacts.