Diandra Leslie-Pelecky

October 17, 2019
The Great Hall

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Storytelling at the intersection of nanotechnology, motorsports and physics

Diandra Leslie-Pelecky works at the intersection between science and story, using her background as a nanomaterials researcher and master science communicator to bring science to audiences that aren't always looking for it. Her non-fiction writing ranges from scientific and popular articles about nanotechnology to the science of fast cars. She also brings her unique experiences to screenplays, stage plays and television, where she writes about the scientific culture, ethical challenges, and the wonders of discovery.



Dr. Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, nanomaterials scientist and author of the book, The Physics of NASCAR, was welcomed to SUU's campus on October 17th, 2019, to speak about the thrills and science behind the beloved racing sport of NASCAR. She was introduced to the stage by the Dean of the College of Science and Engineering, Dr. Frank Hall, and gave a brief summary of her accomplishments and writing, as the audience eagerly listened, excited to hear Dr. Pelecky's presentation.

As Dr. Pelecky walked onto the stage, she explained that her presentation would be separated into two parts: the first part would discuss physics and cars, and the second part about how we teach science in today's world. She goes on to describe how her passion for NASCAR was accidental; she had watched a race on television and wondered how one of the cars had crashed, and because of what one of her college professors refers to as the "pitbull gene", she couldn't just let it go, and felt like she needed to understand why a driver who hadn't been hit by another car, hadn't blown a tire, spontaneously crashed into a wall. Her curiosity led to her book, as well as several experiences in NASCAR garages and driving race cars on speedways, which she shared footage of.

She continues to explain the physics and mathematics behind the motor sport, from the amount of grip, or friction, and downward force needed to push the car down onto the tires, so the vehicles can reach the 150 mph-plus speeds shown in races, to the specifics of the tires themselves, to the aerodynamics and air resistance that drivers must take into consideration when driving. Driving a race car is a lot harder than most people may think, as Pelecky says, "If you think about the weight of the wheels being a sandbag,...imagine that every time you sped up, every time you slowed down, every time you turned a corner, the amount of sand changes."

Dr. Pelecky concluded her presentation with the importance of science in all aspects of everyday life, from racing to dancing and music, and how instead of focusing on the teaching of science courses like "biology, chemistry, and physics, we should be teaching about energy, the environment, and the human body," so that the next generation of scientists and brilliant minds can understand what needs to be done for society and humanity's future.

by Emily Sexton


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