Academic showdown brings together interdisciplinary studies and time travel


English professor Elizabeth Richmond-Garza won Tuesday’s Academic Showdown which centered around how they would handle an alien invasion that killed 85 percent of humanity.
Photo Credit: Chase Karacostas | Daily Texan Staff

It’s up to four UT professors from different disciplines to help save humanity after 85 percent of the world’s population is gone. 

This hypothetical situation was the premise for the debate at this year’s annual Academic Showdown.

Threatened by the advances humans have made, aliens attack Earth. Marty McFly and Dr. Emmet Brown from “Back to the Future,” decide to come out of hiding and travel to UT to talk to these professors. Each one is given the chance to debate which prominent figure should be brought back from history to help humanity. It’s the year 2017, and it is time to save the world.

Chemistry lecturer Kate Biberdorf chose Wernher von Braun, an aerospace engineer, as her figure to bring back from the past because of his invention of the V-2 rocket.

“What we need is a gentleman who can come back, who’s pissed off, who can make a rocket and put a feisty chemist in there and send us off to that alien planet to blow it to pieces,” Biberdorf said.

Journalism professor Robert Jensen decided on Abe Osheroff, a social activist and war veteran.

“It was the combination of the struggle to understand the world and the willingness to act to change the world that I think made Abe so special,” Jensen said.

Mechanical engineering lecturer Billy Wood picked Nikola Tesla. Wood said Tesla was “probably the greatest inventor of all time” and that his genius would save the world.

English professor Elizabeth Richmond-Garza had an unusual choice. Inspired by her field of study in World War I, Garza said she wants someone ordinary but dedicated to helping others, comparing her choice to the students in the room. 

“Whoever you are from my period, when things looked a bit like they do now, I want to bring you back,” Richmond-Garza said. “A real person who might be able to tell us what to do.”

Tejas Choudhary, a civil engineering and finance junior, helped organize the event as part of the Student Engineering Council. He said the event was a rare chance for all discplines to interact.

“We brainstormed topics that could involve both intellectual and something to keep the conversation light and funny,” Choudhary said. “We wanted a topic that could give every single college a chance to contribute something.” 

A poll took place at the end of the event, with Richmond-Garza’s argument winning first place.