Photo by Joe Del Tufo
A new virtual reality arcade, a local’s debut novel and a high school science scholarship challenge have Delaware excited this month.
By Matt Amis
“The Plank” is a perfect initiation rite inside Ctrl V, a new virtual reality arcade in Bear. After stepping through an open elevator door, the player teeters out onto a slim two-by-four wooden plank set hundreds of feet off the ground. One glance down and the body’s sense of equilibrium vanishes, the internal gyroscopes inside your brain go haywire and you plan to plummet. Only you’re still standing inside a curtained booth inside the arcade. “A futuristic dreamscape straight out of Tron” is nothing like the shopping mall standards of the ’80s. Here, small stalls decked out in futuristic headsets and computer monitors open up to worlds of virtual adventures—everything from Angry Birds to swarming zombies. With dozens of games and built-in social distancing, it may be the perfect pandemic-era family afternoon.
142-144 Fox Hunt Drive, Bear; 561-9040, ctrlvarcade.com.
A Little Hope
By Kim Hoey
Ethan Joella describes himself as an optimist. Life is about trying to find happiness in the midst of many sadnesses, he says. It’s about A Little Hope, the name of the Delawarean’s debut novel published by Scribner, which is being compared to the Pulitzer Prize–winning book Olive Kitteridge, written by Elizabeth Strout.
The story explores the intertwined lives of residents of fictional Wharton, Connecticut, where Greg and Freddie Tyler are struggling with Greg’s recent cancer diagnosis. It also follows their friends, colleagues and neighbors as they all face difficult life challenges. These ordinary people come to life with Joella’s careful layering of emotion and attention to detail: a pack of Lifesavers in a pocket, a snow shovel next to a door, the print on a little girl’s pajama top. It’s both joyous and heartbreaking as it celebrates small moments of grace, connection, love and forgiveness.
Joella, a professor of English and psychology at University of Delaware, started writing the book after losing his mother-in-law to leukemia. Even in mourning, he thought about what an honor it was for someone to be missed so much. “We all have to carry on…see the other side of sadness,” he says.
Many chapters started as exercises in writing classes Joella took through the nonprofit Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild, where he now serves as president. “I hope the book makes readers value the people who are alongside them and look for small moments of happiness and beauty in the everyday.”
By Laura Kurtz
Last spring, Ava Skye Barton, of Wilmington, was forwarded a Facebook post from her grandmother about the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, an annual global contest designed to inspire teenagers’ creative thinking about science. It was perfect for the 16-year-old, combining her love of research, animation and video. And the prize? A $250,000 post-secondary scholarship, a $50,000 prize for their teacher and $100,000 to create a Breakthrough Science Lab at their school.
Organized by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, the program asked participants to create original videos that bring to life a concept or theory in the life sciences, physics or mathematics. (Submissions are judged on the student’s ability to communicate complex scientific ideas in “engaging, illuminating and imaginative ways.”)
Barton, an 11th-grader at Cab Calloway School for the Arts, filmed her entry at the University of Delaware campus. Her video, Can Trees Communicate?, talks about mycorrhizal networks and trees’ “wood wide web,” where fungal threads (from mushrooms) allow trees to share nutrients, nurture seedlings and warn other trees when under threat. Her 2-minute, 56-second video breaks down the heavily scientific concept using fun, playful graphics and Barton’s own easy, conversation-style narration.
Barton has been interested in animation and video since she was little. She credits her recent interest in science partly to her dedicated 10th-grade biology teacher, Daniel Kafader, whose course she took virtually last year during the pandemic.
“My love of science is newer, but I’ve always loved researching,” Barton says. “I love watching documentaries and learning and investigating new things.” Kafader also helped her brainstorm a topic for her Breakthrough Junior Challenge entry, picking something that was interesting and important, and that few knew about.
One of 3,400 entries around the globe, Barton’s film was one of 16 finalists across the globe. Humble in her enthusiasm, she says the process made her realize how much she likes research and opened her eyes to the benefits of studying new topics; she’s taking anatomy and physiology this year at Cab.
(Breakthrough Prizes are sponsored by foundations established by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Anne Wojcicki, and aim to celebrate the best scientific work and inspire the next generation of scientists.)