Heidi Fencl’s introduction during her March 5 After Thoughts address was perhaps not what attendees at the popular UW-Green Bay program are accustomed to hearing.
“If you came wanting to know, what is dark energy?, we’re done,” Fencl said with a smile. “Talk’s over. We don’t know.”
As it turns out, Fencl’s address, “The Universe Falls Up?! Dark Energy and the Accelerating Expansion of Everything,” was as much — maybe more — about questions surrounding astrophysics and the mysteries of the universe as it was about answers. In fact, Fencl’s talk would have been different had she given it even a semester ago, she told a full house in the grand foyer at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts. A January discovery surrounding dark energy again changed what scientists thought they knew, deepening this intriguing mystery and adding yet another layer to its story.
“So the story keeps building, is what I’m trying to tell you,” said Fencl, UW-Green Bay associate professor of Physics and Women’s and Gender Studies. “We’ve got this whole new twist to play with.”
But if Fencl’s talk presented more questions than answers, audience members didn’t seem to mind. She took them through an abbreviated yet intriguing history of astrophysics and discovery of the universe, from the 18th century “fuzzy objects” of French astronomer Charles Messier to the distance and brightness calculation techniques of early 20th century scientist Henrietta Swan Leavitt. From the known contributions of Edwin Hubble to the unknown questions of the future of the universe, Fencl brought an obvious enthusiasm to her address.
“I’m trying to get you interested and excited about that story, too,” said Fencl, who directed the UW System Women and Science program for five years before coming to the University in 2001.
Fencl’s After Thoughts address was the third such event of the 2012-13 academic year, which marks the third season of the popular program. Designed to connect women in the community with UW-Green Bay, the gatherings showcase faculty, staff and guests, and convene women after their workdays for learning, enrichment and fun. The sessions are so named because they provide “After Thoughts” for participants to take with them when they leave.
By design, After Thoughts talks delve into a wide variety of subjects, from physics to literature, the news media to theatre and history. UW-Green Bay Associate Prof. Rebecca Meacham kicked off the 2012-13 After Thoughts season Oct. 1, with her talk, “Fiction’s Burning Questions: Novelists, History and the Creative Spark.” Nov. 13, Jeanne Stangel, UW-Green Bay’s Director of Development and the former Associate Director of UW-Green Bay Athletics, engaged an After Thoughts audience with her address, “The Green Bay Way: The Impact of National Recognition in Collegiate Sports at UW-Green Bay.” The final After Thoughts presentation of 2012-13, featuring Denise Bartell, associate professor of Human Development and Psychology, is slated for Tuesday, April 9.
The popularity of the After Thoughts program endures, attendees say — even when the questions outnumber the answers.
“So I just spent about 25 minutes,” Fencl said Tuesday, prompting audience laughter, “saying, ‘I don’t know.’ ”