The University of Central Florida stormed the comic con world by participating in MegaCon Orlando and Puerto Rico Comic Con.
Both events are geared for fans of science fiction, fantasy, anime and horror. They draw thousands of attendees who attend celebrity panels, shop for their favorite novelties, comics and collectables, and dress up in cosplay (costumes of their favorite characters.) MegaCon Orlando bills itself as the southeast’s largest fan convention. More than 100,000 people are expected during the May 16-19 event. Puerto Rico Comic Con is the premier convention for the Caribbean, drawing similar numbers May 17-19 in San Juan.
‘Mr. Spock’ on Science and Science Fiction
UCF physics Professor Josh Colwell has worked on multiple NASA missions and conducts research into the origins of the solar system. He also teaches introductory and advanced physics classes, where he’s learned the value of making science fun as a method to teach and spark the imagination. Colwell is also a big sci-fi fan, which is why he channeled Spock, the Star Trek icon, when he visited MegaCon with UCF’s video crew.
Dressed in cosplay, Colwell engaged attendees and asked them to ponder the connection between their favorite science fiction show and real science. He shared what researchers do at UCF that is relevant to Marvel, Star Wars and other universes and explained how close or how far we are from turning science fiction into reality.
Prosthetics, Gaming and Comic Books
UCF-based Limbitless Solutions, which creates uniquely designed prosthetic arms for children, unveiled a new prosthetic arm sleeve themed around the Halo 2 video game character Arbiter at their booth at MegaCon. The sleek design was completed in collaboration with 343 Industries, the developer of the blockbuster Halo series.
The booth also housed demonstrations of the video training games Limbitless developed in collaboration with the School of Visual Arts and Design at UCF. The games help new and future recipients of the arms, who belong to the Limbitless’ Bionic Kids family, train and strengthen their muscles.
One arm recipient, 10-year-old Zachary Pamboukas, created The Bionic Kid comic book series to help generate money for Limbitless. He says he didn’t have money of his own to donate, so he designed the comic book with the help of his older brother, Christo, and parents as a way to pay it forward. The Pamboukas family flew in from their home in Seattle, Washington, to sell the comic books at the Limbitless booth.
“The response was overwhelmingly positive,” his father, Niko, says. “People who had never heard of Limbitless Solutions or Zachary’s story were so impressed that 10-year-old and 13-year-old boys would think of such a selfless idea.”
One of those people was actor Michael Rosenbaum, who played Lex Luthor on the TV series Smallville. Rosenbaum was so enthused about meeting Zachary, he posted a video of their interaction on his Twitter account.
While the celebrity interaction was certain memorable, Niko says they were particularly moved by a local mother who stopped by the booth with her son, who has trouble walking. The mother and son told the them they came to MegaCon just so they could meet Zachary in person.
“She told us that when her son is feeling down, she asks him to listen to Zachary’s BBYO International Convention speech and that cheers him up every time,” Niko says. “I had to give them a hug. They were amazing.”
Zachary and his brother, Christo, are working on issue two of The Bionic Kid, which they anticipate will be ready for print by winter 2019. A digital version of issue one of the comic book is available for $20 on Amazon.
Arecibo Observatory’s New Mascot, Comic Book
Meanwhile, 1,189 miles away, the creative team from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico staffed its own booth during the Puerto Rico Comic Con. The observatory unveiled its own comic book series, Data Dreams, which follows the adventures of the facility’s new mascot, Greg.
UCF manages the National Science Foundation-supported facility under a cooperative agreement with Universidad Ana G. Méndez and Yang Enterprises Inc.
The comic book series and the mascot were created to raise awareness about the importance of space science and the impact it has on Earth by engaging young audiences and making science fun to understand. William Gonzalez Sierra, a graphic designer at Arecibo, developed Greg and the comic book.
Part of the observatory’s mission is to help educate the general public about space science and to ignite a spark among youth to pursue STEM-related careers.
“We wanted to debut Greg in a unique way,” says Francisco Córdova, the director of Arecibo. “Comic Con was a good, creative fit and we’re grateful for the collaboration that will bring Greg to a wider audience.”