Physics graduate student Carly Fengel shows a Timber Ridge Elementary School student the beautiful spectral lines of hydrogen, helium, argon and neon lamps. When viewed through diffraction grating glasses, the various wavelengths of light are split apart, revealing a unique signature for each gas. “So we could tell what stars are made of!” remarked the student.

Family Science Nights have been a yearly staple in Corvallis schools for more than a decade, but May 16 was only the second one for Timber Ridge School, a combined middle and elementary school serving a rural area on the northern edge of Albany. About 200 students of all ages attended the event, with middle-school students acting as guides and selling snacks as a fundraiser.

In addition to volunteers from the physics department, OSU was represented by other departments, including the College of Veterinary Medicine, the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, and the School of Nuclear Science and Engineering. Non-departmental groups also showed up, such as the Dairy Club, Geology Club, and Fisheries and Wildlife Club. For the first time, nursing students from Linn-Benton Community College made an appearance, rounding out the science offerings with tables focusing on exercise, vital signs, CPR, and hand-washing.

Other physics demos included classics like levitating ping-pong balls with a hair dryer and the ever-popular hovercraft. As usual, the line for the hovercraft rarely dropped below a dozen students, continuing to draw a crowd to the end of the hall throughout the evening. Many were eager to learn how the hovercraft worked and several times kids remarked: “I want to make one!”

(Prof. Ethan Minot explains the design of the hovercraft)

As the last Family Science Night of the school year, this event ended the semester on a high note, with several new groups and a new physics demonstration. Both volunteers and families will be looking forward to next year’s school outreach events.

A big thank you to the physics student volunteers Evan Peters, Garrett Jepson, and Carly Fengel.

Story by Monica Bennett.

Physics joined the Mi Familia Weekend for a hands-on showcase of science. The Mi Familia Weekend is an annual 2-day event that is designed to connect diverse and underrepresented families with their college students and the OSU community. The interactive science and engineering sessions incorporated demonstrations and activities from Physics, Chemistry, Microbiology, Engineering, and more. Dr. KC Walsh and Learning Assistants from the introductory physics course brought a host of fun physics toys to engage the young K-12 participants. Demonstrations from the physics group included a magnetic levitation track, hovercraft, Tesla coil, liquid nitrogen freezing, and much more.

Story by Monica Bennett

Physics was one of nearly a dozen departments and groups that came together to create the attention-grabbing, educational smorgasbord of OSU Discovery Days.

The event is coordinated by Prof. Margaret Haak of the Department of Chemistry, who took over in 2003 and expanded the program from its predecessor, “Museum Days”. Prof. Haak estimates that about 1,800 children flooded into LaSells over the course of two days, enjoying science demonstrations and trivia games from science departments and other groups, including the sorority Sigma Delta Omega, the Physics 111 course, and local business Brad’s World Reptiles.

The Department of Physics claimed the majority of one of the rooms in the LaSells center, mostly for the sake of the rotating chair that sat in the center of the room. Here students lined up to take a spin, using hand weights to test how concentrating their center of mass increased their speed of rotation, while extending their hands slowed it.

Having discovered some principles of angular momentum, the dizzy students then staggered over to the tables, which contained more physics demonstrations. The demos, all hands-on to some extent, included ping-pong balls supported by a hair dryer, as well as a large tank of water in which students tested their predictions on the relative buoyancy of regular vs. diet soda and cucumbers vs. grapes. A particular favorite was the table of vacuum experiments, featuring not only a chamber that demonstrated the effect of vacuum on balloons and bubble wrap, but also a steel ball that students tried to pull open, discovering the pressure difference when the air inside was evacuated by the vacuum pump.

Physics demos were on display from other groups as well—a contingent from Physics 111 (taught by Prof. Emily van Zee) showed off their skills as future teachers with an array of optics demonstrations, showing students how refraction changes the apparent location of an object submerged in water and how reflectivity varies in different materials. Elsewhere, students watched a Geiger counter detecting uranium in old Fiestaware and observed changes in surface tension with soap and water, being introduced to a variety of physics concepts in addition to the department’s own offerings.

Prof. Haak’s hope for Discovery Days is for students to feel involved, seeing that “science is something you do, not just something you read about.” She believes that major outreach events are valuable to the volunteers as well as the visitors, stressing the importance of communicating science well and encouraging hands-on exploration. With these guiding values and contributions from the fields of physics, biochemistry, botany, herpetology, and more, the spring 2017 Discovery Days were a delight for students and scientists alike.

A big thank you to the physics students who volunteered their time: Ikaika McKeague-McFadden, Willis Rogers, Kelby Petersonm, Zach Colbert, Abe Teklu, Isaac Hodges, Tymothy Mangan, Ian Goode, Ryan Bailey Crandell, Katy Chase, James Haggerty, Carly Fengel, David Rivella, and Nikita Rozanov.

Elementary school students at Franklin School, Corvallis, enjoyed the wonders of riding a frictionless craft across the school gym on Thursday night. They also learned how to make their own hovercraft using an old cd, and checked out other “wow” physics demos. Many thanks to the student volunteers from the Department of Physics who gave over 150 kids a super fun experience with physics. More school events are coming up soon.

Scientists from the Physics Department visited the first grade classes (about 100 students) at Clover Ridge Elementary School. Atul Chhotray and Davide Lazzati used solar telescopes to give students an introduction to astronomy. Nicole Quist, Jacob Bigelow and Ethan Minot used an assortment of interactive demos to explain the amazing things we can do with air. From pushing a sail boat with giant air molecules, to floating on a hover craft. Nicole: “Raise your hands if you want to say something.” Student: “That was awesome!”

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On March 5th, the Department hosted 22 girls from Oregon middle schools who were taking part in the “Discovering the Scientist Within” Workshop ( .

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The students came to the free half-day workshop to learn about the wide range of career options for women in science, technology, engineering and math. 100 girls chose from a range of activities (physics was one option) hosted across campus. Through hands-on activities, they find out what it’s like to work in different careers. Participants have a chance to interact with professional women who work in a variety of fields. And they have a chance to meet other girls who share their interests.

Many thanks to the OSU students, staff and faculty (Liz Gire) who shared their time and enthusiasm with the girls.

The Physics Outreach team visited Hoover Elementary School on Thursday March 3rd. 160 kids came with their parents to play with our physics demonstrations and ride the physics hover craft. Each child left with a pair of “rainbow diffraction glass”, pictured below.


Here are some photos of OSU grad students (Lee Aspitarte and Jay Howard), and undergrad (Ryan Bailey-Crandell) explaining physics at the event:

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Many thanks to all the OSU student volunteers: Lee Aspitarte, Ryan Bailey-Crandell, Jake Bigelow, Morgan Brown, Jay Howard, and MacKenzie Lenz. Faculty/Staff volunteers Clarissa Amundsen, Ethan Minot and Jim Ketter.

To learn more about Physics Department Outreach Events visit our outreach webpage. If you are interested in volunteering to help with outreach events, please contact Ethan Minot.

VLUU L100, M100 / Samsung L100, M100


hovercraft here

There was a buzz of excitement amongst the kids lined up underneath the sign “hover craft here”. The OSU Physics road show was at Periwinkle Elementary School in Albany to be part of the school’s annual “Family Science Night” on Thursday Feb 25th.

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As kids lined up to ride the hovercraft, they enjoyed physic demos on two tables. They learned how to make their own hovercraft using an old cd, a balloon and a bottle cap. They tried out rainbow diffraction glasses that turn white light into a rainbow of colors. They used a hair drier to levitate a ping pong ball, and then used the same hair drier to lift up a 1kg weight. “Wow!”

200 kids brought their families to interact with our exhibits. All the kids went home with their own pair of rainbow diffraction glasses and stories about their hovercraft adventure.

Many thanks to OSU student volunteers: Jay Howard, Kelby Peterson, Evan Peters, MacKenzie Lenz, and James Haggerty. Faculty volunteers Heidi Schellman and Ethan Minot. And Physics Staff Jim Ketter and Clarissa Amundsen.

To learn more about Physics Department Outreach Events visit our outreach webpage. If you are interested in volunteering to help with outreach events, please contact Ethan Minot.


“I can say without hesitation that it has changed my life. The sort of career that I want to have is much closer than a hazy dream now. It feels real, like something I can reach out and touch if I work hard enough at it.”


networkingThe APS CUWiP at Oregon State University was one of nine Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics that took place simultaneously across the United States on 15-17 January, 2016. At the OSU CUWiP, 140 undergraduate women physicists from the Northwest gathered at LaSells Stewart Center to present their research, to tour science facilities, participate in workshops, and to network with women professionals and with their peers. They spent an evening over dinner asking professionals from industry, academia and national labs about the many different careers they might pursue.

The weekend began with tours of science facilities in Corvallis, including Hewlett Packard’s analytical labs, OSU’s Physics labs, Electron Microscope facility, TRIGA reactor, Robotics Lab and the Hinsdale Wave Research Lab.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 2.36.12 PMParticipants heard an inspiring description of What Access Really Means by Mary James, Dean of Diversity at Reed College. Together with 1400 peers from the other CUWiP sites across the country, they heard Ginger Kerrick describe how her physics degree led her to the position of Capsule Commander at NASA. Natalie Roe, Director of Physics at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, described how research from the sub-atomic scale to the astronomical scale proceeds at her National Lab. Laura King, from Hewlett Packard, led them through an example of a STEM-in-the-private-sector career path from a startup company to large-scale industry. The questions from the participants kept coming, and one student summed up her experience afterwards, “I can say without hesitation that it has changed my life. The sort of career that I want to have is much closer than a hazy dream now. It feels real, like something I can reach out and touch if I work hard enough at it.”

discussionThe students engaged in selected workshops that fit their interests. They chose among workshops to help them chart a path through graduate school, to craft a compelling resume, and to present their successes confidently. Some learned about interactive teaching techniques and others explored the transition from community college to a four-year college and how to take advantage of the opportunities to prepare for the next step in a career. Another student said: “There were so many great takeaways from this conference and I am extremely grateful and appreciative …”

posterThe poster session / resource fair was a great success. The students brought their research to Corvallis and spent an afternoon presenting it to their peers and to the many volunteers from regional colleges, universities and companies who came to support the event. LaSells was abuzz with science! There was plenty of time for discussion and networking. Over lunch, the students discussed the concerns of being women in science and took the microphone to address their peers and report their conversations. A science trivia night and a “BAH-fest” added some science fun to the proceedings and more time to make new friends. The students left with the confidence that they will be successful in a field still dominated by men, some new skills and knowledge, and a network of women peers.

CUWiP was organized locally by the Oregon State University Physics Department under the leadership of co-chairs Janet Tate and Allison Gicking and a team of twelve dedicated graduate students. National funding for the event came from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy Office of Science through a grant to the American Physical Society. Major local funding came from ONAMI, the OSU Research Office, and the OSU Division of Student Affairs. Many other OSU offices contributed generously as did local companies and individuals. A list of the sponsors is at

Physics professors Matt Graham and David McIntyre will each receive General Research Fund (GRF) awards this year. The competitive, university-wide award enables faculty to launch new research projects in their fields of expertise to attract more funding sources, as the project expands, and to help develop ambitious research/scholarly activities. Each research project was awarded annual funds of approximately $10,000. This year the Research Office chose 6 projects from a pool of 15 proposals.


Matt Graham
Department of Physics
“Filming the Growth Morphology of Graphene with Video-Rate Transient Absorption of Microscopy”

dave-mcintyre-e1454960856313David McIntyre
Department of Physics
“Micromechanical Evolution of Growing Tumors”