Sally Ride Festival Draws Hundreds of Budding Scientists

About 800 middle-school girls, family members and teachers enjoyed a science-filled day at The University of Texas at Dallas during the Sally Ride Science Festival on April 6.

Dr. John Hoffman showing students his booth during the Sally Ride Festival.

Anna Njuraita and her sister Marilyne Njuraita, 12, of Dallas, talk with Dr. John Hoffman about several physics experiments, including a holographic pig and static electricity generators.

UT Dallas faculty and students were among the 250 volunteers, presenters and exhibitors who joined corporate and community partners to bring science to life during the afternoon of hands-on workshops and demonstrations.

Sponsored by the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, the event at UT Dallas was the 92nd Sally Ride Science Festival conducted nationwide since 2001. The event honors America’s first woman in space and her legacy of encouraging young girls to pursue higher education and careers in science and engineering.

The event kicked off with lunch, music and a street fair in the heart of campus. More than 20 exhibitors set up under the trellis to engage children and adults in a wide range of activities that highlighted chemistry, physics, space, engineering and other fields.

Marilyne Njuraita, 12, of Dallas visited the University’s Department of Physics exhibit, where Dr. Robert Glosser, professor and head of the department, and faculty member Dr. John Hoffman displayed a number of hands-on physics experiments.

Girls prepare for a demo on acids and bases at the ExxonMobil exhibit.

Girls prepare for a demonstration on acids and bases by exhibitors from UT Arlington.


NASA Astronaut Wendy Lawrence signing autographs.

Astronaut Wendy Lawrence signs autographs for middle-school girls at the Sally Ride Science Festival while Dr. Bruce Novak, dean of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, welcomes the girls to campus.

One display – a hologram – wasn’t quite as hands-on as it appeared.

“There was a toy pig in a dish, and there was also like a 3D image of the pig on top of the dish,” Marilyne said. “I tried to touch it and I couldn’t. It was cool.”

Dr. Bruce Novak, dean of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, welcomed the crowd and visited with some of the participants during the street fair.

“This is a terrific day for us,” Novak said. “It’s a great pleasure to host the Sally Ride Science Festival. My hope is that these young people will walk away feeling that they’ll be welcomed back here in a few years when they’re ready for college.”

Former NASA astronaut Wendy Lawrence, a veteran of four spaceflights, signed autographs and spoke with festival-goers during talks in the Clark Center auditorium. She described the career path she had taken to become an astronaut, as well as what it’s like to fly in space. She took questions from the inquisitive crowd and addressed how astronauts eat, sleep, exercise and conduct other daily activities in zero gravity.

Lawrence also had a message of encouragement for the fifth- through eighth-grade students in the crowd:

“I have no doubt that some of you out there are thinking, ‘I like math and science, engineering sounds interesting, but I don’t think I’m smart enough.’ To which I say, how do you know? You’re not that far along in school yet. You owe it to yourself to try. Don’t sell yourself short,” Lawrence said.

"Bear" Ride in the midst of the crowd.

Sally Ride’s sister, Karen “Bear” Ride (in green vest) is a driving force behind the festivals.

“If you play sports, are you instantly good at basketball or soccer? No. You go to practice. You have to do the same thing in school. You have to practice math and science. You will get better at it, but it takes work, and it takes practice.”

The festival also featured nearly two dozen workshops for kids and adults. Participants explored the mathematics and geometry of billiards, tried out paper-airplane-making skills with the Civil Air Patrol, and enjoyed the night sky in two portable planetariums provided by the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Among the workshop titles: “Kitchen Chemistry,” “Edible Earth,” “Exploring Rockets,” and “Circuit Sculptures.”

“These kids are here because they want to be here; it’s not a school field trip. You can really tell the difference,” said Karen “Bear” Ride, Sally Ride’s sister and a driving force behind the festivals.

During a break in the day’s activities, Bear Ride was asked what she thought Sally would think of the day’s turnout and the crowd’s enthusiasm: “She’d be delighted,” she said. “Her heart was really into the festivals. She just loved them.”

The Sally Ride Science Festival was presented by ExxonMobil. Other corporate sponsors included Time Warner Cable, Northrop Grumman Foundation and Texas Instruments.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].