University of Central Florida researchers will be putting the “sci” in “sci-fi” for the MegaCon science fiction and pop culture convention Aug. 12 through 15 at the Orlando County Convention Center.

With a line-up that includes guests like Star Trek’s William Shatner and George Takei, MegaCon is the Southeast’s largest comics, sci-fi, horror, anime and gaming event.

As part of the convention’s special focus on the interrelation between science and pop culture, UCF researchers Josh Colwell, Addie Dove and Phil Metzger ’00MS ’05PhD will share their real-life experiences helping humans explore the cosmos, with various presentations Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The researchers have worked with NASA and commercial space companies, and two also have their own podcast that they will record live at the convention this year.

The researchers participate in public events like this to help build excitement and awareness about science.

Star Trek is rooted in exploration, which is something I do professionally through scientific exploration,” says Colwell, Pegasus Professor and chair of Physics at UCF. “NASA obviously is the premier organization in the world for exploring the cosmos, which is the mission of Star Trek as well, to seek out and explore. So, I think it’s a natural audience and venue to talk about cool space stuff.”

The Rings of Saturn

Colwell’s talk will explore the mysteries of Saturn with a particular focus on what’s in its rings and how they came to be, as well as dive into the landscape and features of its planet-like moon, Titan, which scientists think may have all the necessary ingredients for life.

The presentation, titled The Ringed Planet: Cassini’s Voyage of Discovery at Saturn, will be held on Friday, Aug. 13, at 11 a.m. in room W307A.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, launched in 1997, was the first space probe to enter Saturn’s orbit. Colwell was part of the mission from its early inception to its final, planned crash into the planet in 2017. Colwell is also no stranger to MegaCon or science fiction, as he is an avid Star Trek fan, or Trekkie, and has appeared in TV and film, including Deep Impact, in which he also served as a technical consultant.

Extreme Environments

Dove, an associate professor in UCF’s Department of Physics, will give a talk about exploring the extreme environments on other planets and why it’s so much harder than what people are used to on Earth.

Her talk, titled Extreme Exploration: There’s No Place Like Home, will be Sunday, Aug. 15, at 12:15 p.m. in room W307A.

As a 2021 Reach for the Stars honoree, Dove studies the planetary surfaces of the moon, asteroids and other small objects in space, including how they behave and interact with the surrounding electric fields and charged particles from the sun. Her work includes NASA-funded research examining the fundamental properties of space dust and how granular materials behave in microgravity.

The work is critically important for future space missions, as dust can cause significant issues in mechanical and electrical systems and can be a threat to human health.

“In general, I enjoy bringing talks to audiences who might not otherwise seek out to attend a ‘science talk’ but who might be interested to hear about recent missions, and happy to see some at a convention like that has such a wide range of options and fandoms,” Dove says. “I think scientific literacy is important, and space and exploration are relevant ways to bring some of that to public audiences.”

Dove and Colwell are also scheduled to record an episode of their long-running space podcast, Walkabout the Galaxy during a panel presentation. They will be joined by Brendan Byrne, a space reporter with 90.7 WMFE and host of his own podcast, Are We There Yet?, who will be filling in for regular co-host James Cooney, an associate lecturer in UCF’s Department of Physics.

The presentation is titled Walkabout the Galaxy: From the Moon to Mars and Beyond and will be held Saturday, Aug. 14, at 1:30 p.m. in room W307A.

For the podcast, the hosts will discuss what’s right around the corner for human exploration, such as NASA’s Artemis mission to return astronauts to the moon by 2024, and the prospects for going to Mars.

Star Trek’s STEM Legacy

Also on Saturday, Dove and Colwell will join Metzger for a panel to discuss Star Trek and the science that inspired the long running media franchise and the ways it has influenced science.

The panel, titled Star Trek’s STEM Legacy, will be on Saturday, Aug. 14, at 5:15 p.m. in room W307A.

Metzger is an associate scientist with UCF’s Florida Space Institute and a 30-year veteran of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where he worked on high-profile missions including the iconic space shuttle program and the International Space Station. His current work includes projects related to space mining and mitigating the effects of dust ejected by landers on the moon’s surface.

“Space resource utilization is becoming real, so this is putting us into the path of extending civilization into space,” Metzger says. “The vision of what civilization may be like is inspiring. UCF is working on many of the technologies needed to use space resources.”

The full schedule of panels and events is available on MegaCon’s website. Attendees are invited to tag @UCF on social media during the convention and use hashtag #MegaCon2021.

Colwell received his doctorate in astrophysical, planetary and atmospheric sciences from the University of Colorado at Boulder and his bachelor’s degree in physics from Stetson University. He joined UCF’s Department of Physics, part of UCF’s College of Sciences, in 2006.

Dove received her doctorate in astrophysical and planetary sciences from the University of Colorado at Boulder and her bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Missouri. She joined UCF in 2012.

Metzger received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Auburn University and his master’s and doctorate in physics from UCF. He joined UCF in 2014.