GCU faculty bring style AND substance to Comicon
By Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau
When Phoenix Comicon kicks off Thursday, two Grand Canyon University faculty members will be among the estimated 200,000 superhero aficionados expected to descend on the city’s downtown.
Dr. Roméo Farinacci and Deborah Haralson, both avid comic book fans as well as veteran Comicon attendees, are joining the throng of self-proclaimed Trekkies and techies to speak on panels about the science in such stories as Star Wars, Star Trek and the Justice League.
In other words, the two College of Science, Engineering and Technology faculty members will emphasize the S-T-E-M in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Haralson said. “Comicon is a pop culture magnet.”
Dressed as Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America and other colorful characters, fans flock to Comicon to hobnob, memorabilia-shop and meet celebrities. This year’s impressive celeb roster includes actor Dick Van Dyke, author Diana Gabaldon and DC Comics artist Dave Beat.
Many futuristic fantasy fans will hope to hear quotes such as “Wait a minute, Doc. Ah — are you telling me you built a time machine — out of a DeLorean?” (Marty McFly, “Back to the Future”) and “Don’t call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight blob of grease!” (C-3PO, “Star Wars”).
It’s the nerds’ time to be cool. Comicon is their turf, and its participants are their homies. The schedule for the 15th annual Phoenix Comicon on Thursday through Sunday at the Phoenix Convention Center is brimming with costume contests, film festivals, fashion shows and events such as The Dork Night Rises Party. There will be trivia contests, gaming rooms, exhibits, speakers and panelists — including Farinacci and Haralson.
To make the point that science is fun, Farinacci and Haralson also plan to come clad in costumes. Farinacci will dress as Morpheus from the “Matrix” film franchise, and Haralson will look like the Scarlet Witch from such films as “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers, Age of Ulton.”
“It’s fun, but particularly for these panels, we need to communicate that STEM is exponentially awesome,” Haralson said.
Weapons and gadgets, oh my!
Each is speaking on multiple panels. One of Farinacci’s sessions will explore the fancy weapons and gadgets that pop up across the science fiction universe. He plans to pose questions like these: “How do they work? Is there science behind them?”
There’s no denying the link between the science fiction in comic books and the STEM subjects that have become main attractions at GCU, Farinacci said. STEM can impart the knowledge needed to invent future technology, he said.
“It’s like the bridge from fantasy to reality,” said Farinacci, CSET Information Technology and Cyber Security program director.
Once upon a time, Star Trek truly went where no man had gone before in the area of telephone technology. While families who tuned into the show in the mid-1960s still relied on landlines and rotary dials, characters such as Capt. James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock were communicating on cordless mobile devices.
“The inspiration for the cellphone came from Star Trek,” Farinacci said.
Similarly, Marty McFly’s flying skateboard in “Back to the Future Part II” is now reality in the form of the hoverboard. The franchise’s once wondrous self-lacing shoes can now be found on store shelves.
“A lot of us might have fantasies of things like flying cars that may not be reality, but we can put them in a comic book. The kids see it and they bring it to reality,” Farinacci said. “What you see on TV may one day come to fruition.”
Star Trek is also one of the inspirations for the electronic tablet, Haralson said. Dr. Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy had one. So did Lt. Nyota Uhuru.
“Star Trek had tablets before there were tablets,” Haralson said.
Does the Empire need CSET?
One of Haralson’s panels will explore the two different robots that destroyed two Death Stars years apart in “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” and “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.”
“The (earlier) robot (R2-D2) went on to the big, giant space ship and magically figured out what was wrong with it,” Haralson said. “Then, in a brand new Star Wars film last year, a different robot (BB-8) went to a different bad space ship and did the same thing.
“For being this all-knowing, evil consortium of badness, how come they can’t figure out how to digitally modernize? Haven’t the bad guys developed better electronics after all this time?”
In other panels, Haralson said, “we are also going to look at some of the creatures from ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ movie. We are going to look at signal jamming. … We are going to look at some physics with regard to some parallel-universe timelines.”
Both GCU faculty members use comic book stories to make points in class.
“It gets students engaged, keeps students engaged and gets them thinking outside the box,” Farinacci said.
Farinacci’s favorite superheroes are the mutant X-Men, born with extraordinary abilities that are used for humanity’s benefit.
He is such a big fan, he named his son Xavier.
• Noon Thursday, May 25: Super Friends: The Science of the Justice League, North 132BC.
Details: The Justice League’s membership includes aliens, cyborgs, mythological royalty and billionaires. With their powers combined, they are something even greater. Experts discuss the science of the powers and gadgets used in the Justice League.
- 6 p.m. Thursday, May 25: Set a Course for Home: The Science of the Star Trek Voyager, North 132BC.
Details: As the crew of the Intrepid-class ship Voyager journeyed home, it enjoyed technologies such as neural computers and a holographic AI doctor. We discuss the science behind the ship and its encounters on the way home.
Session that includes both Haralson and Farinacci on the panel:
- 6 p.m. Friday, May 26: Art Imitating Life Inspiring Science: Drawing Inspiration from Comic Lore, North 132BC.
Details: Contrary to popular belief, a lot of creativity goes into science and engineering. Whether it’s noticing previously undiscovered patterns or coming up with new ways to solve problems, STEM professionals draw inspiration from a number of sources. In this panel, experts will discuss how comics and pop culture have influenced science.
- 1:30 p.m. Thursday, May 25: Ask an-Ologist: How to connect with STEM experts, North 131C.
Details: There is an increasing push within the STEM community to perform outreach and education. We discuss some of these projects and how you can connect with them to bring experts into your classroom.
- 3 p.m. Thursday, May 25: Technology and Entrepreneurship: How to teach 21st century skills, North 131C.
Details: Emerging technology in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, and 3D Design are creating new and exciting opportunities. Exposing students to these technologies, as they relate to gaming, costuming, film, robotics, engineering, music and much more, is a perfect way to provide them numerous ways to learn 21st-century skills and an entrepreneurial spirit.
- 3 p.m. Saturday, May 27: Cybersecurity in Star Wars: “It’s an older code, but it checks out,” North 132BC.
Details: Thanks to poor password security, the Empire had TWO Death Stars destroyed. In this panel, cybersecurity experts will discuss this and other ways the Empire went wrong.
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.