News Release

Fast cars and chocolate bars: Bringing physics to the public

Science communicators will discuss ways to engage the public through popular culture at the APS March Meeting in Denver

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Physical Society

Please Note: The 2020 American Physical Society (APS) March Meeting that was to be held in Denver, Colorado from March 2 through March 6 has been canceled. The decision was made late Saturday (February 29), out of an abundance of caution and based on the latest scientific data available regarding the transmission of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). See our official release on the cancelation for more details.

DENVER, COLO., FEBRUARY 28, 2020--Physics is more than black holes, quarks and dark matter. It plays an integral role in our daily lives, from understanding election interference to how we cook spaghetti. Although public trust in science is growing, a recent survey indicates that people are skeptical when it comes to research integrity and tend to trust practitioners more than research scientists.

To bridge this divide, science communicators at the 2020 American Physical Society March Meeting in Denver will present unique and engaging approaches to leverage popular culture to bring physics to life in a way that intrigues, fascinates, and mobilizes the general public.

Need for Speed

The author of The Physics of Nascar, former nanomaterials researcher Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, will deliver a public lecture on Tuesday, March 3, titled "From Nanomaterials to NASCAR: Materials at 200 Miles per Hour." Then, in a talk during the Physics for Everyone session on March 5, she will share from her experience from the science communication trenches and advise March Meeting scientists on how they can help broaden the public's perception of physics.

"People are hard-wired to learn from story, so scientists should learn the basics of storytelling," said Leslie-Pelecky. "Understand your audience and what motivates them, find the overlap between your passions and theirs, because outreach to the public is not about you, the scientist, but about them."

In her public lecture, Leslie-Pelecky will discuss how materials contribute to speed and safety, including how technology developed by NASA has been incorporated into race cars, and how safety innovations in NASCAR impact the roads everyone drivers.

Science Goes to the Movies

The cultural phenomenon of Star Wars has entranced and captivated movie-goers for several generations. Patrick Johnson, assistant teaching professor in the Department of Physics at Georgetown University, will share his love of this classic movie. His presentation will examine the various theories behind the science of Star Wars. His talk will be a treat for science fiction and physics fans alike.

Star Wars has paved the way for the Marvel and DC universe to take over the summer blockbuster movie schedule. Both superheroes and supervillains possess powers that defy nature. James Kakalios will explain the links between superpowers and modern technologies. His presentation will explore how concepts in comics are now appearing as new technologies in the marketplace, from Spiderman's webbing and carbon nanotubes to Black Panther's Vibranium suit and the conservation of energy.

"There is a growing appreciation by the physics community that outreach to the general public, communicating the principles, findings and benefits of physics research, is an important activity," said James Kakalios, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota. "I hope that this session can help inspire other physicists to combine their passion for physics with their other interests [to demonstrate] that science is not an esoteric subject, but is the basis for our modern lifestyles."

Anissa Ramirez, professor, inventor and science evangelist with Science Underground, will round out the session by discussing how to leverage popular culture to bring scientific ideas to life for the general public. Ramirez will explore topics from her forthcoming book, "The Alchemy of Us," on ways to embed science into stories that will appeal to the broadest audience, like drawing the link between the gas laws and 'deflate-gate' in American football.

Chocolate Covered Physics

Wilson Poon, professor of physics at the University of Edinburgh, will explore the physics responsible for the smooth, velvety texture of chocolate during the Flow and Structure in Dense Suspensions session on March 2. His presentation will examine how mixing (the conching process) affects the physical properties of chocolate during processing. Poon believes the results of the study could be used to reduce the fat content and energy needed to produce this delightful confection.


The Physics of NASCAR: How March Meeting Physicists Have Unique Opportunities to Share Physics with the Public
TIME/DATE/PLACE: 4:54 PM, Thursday, March 5, Room: 601/603
CONTACT: Diandra Leslie-Pelecky,

Physics of Star Wars
TIME/DATE/PLACE: 3:06 PM, Thursday, March 5, Room 601/603
CONTACT: Patrick Johnson,

Using Superheroes to Engage the Public
TIME/DATE/PLACE: 2:30 PM, Thursday, March 5, Room 601/603
CONTACT: James Kakalios,

Bringing Science to the Public Using Popular Culture
TIME/DATE/PLACE: 4:18 PM-4:54 PM, Thursday, March 5, Room: 601/603
CONTACT: Anissa Ramirez,

The Rheology of Chocolate Making
TIME/DATE/PLACE: 12:27 PM, Monday, March 2, 2020, Room: 405-407
CONTACT: Wilson Poon,


The American Physical Society (APS) March Meeting is a major international conference and the largest physics meeting of the year. In 2020, the APS March Meeting will convene from March 2-6 at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver.

Useful Links

Meeting website:

Scientific program:

Press services:

Hotel & Travel information:

Press Registration

Complimentary registration is available to journalists for the express purpose of gathering and reporting news and information from the meeting. Staff reporters, freelance writers, and students are welcome to apply. Press credentials may be obtained by completing the form on this page:

The deadline for press registration is Friday February 28th at 3:00 p.m. EST.

Press Conferences

All press conferences will take place in Room 608. If you are unable to attend, you may register to watch and ask questions online at

Press Room

A press room for registered journalists will operate throughout the meeting in Room 610/612 and will offer complimentary coffee, breakfast, and lunch. The press room may be reserved for conducting interviews.


Monday - Thursday, 7:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Friday, 7:30 a.m. - 2:45 p.m.

Please contact the APS Press Office with any questions at


The American Physical Society is a nonprofit membership organization working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics through its outstanding research journals, scientific meetings, and education, outreach, advocacy, and international activities. APS represents over 55,000 members, including physicists in academia, national laboratories, and industry in the United States and throughout the world. Society offices are located in College Park, Maryland (Headquarters), Ridge, New York, and Washington, D.C.

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