Undergraduate volunteers from the Department of Physics took some of their favorite kid-friendly demonstrations to share with families at the annual Family Science Night at Franklin School, Corvallis, on January 25th. The demonstrations included exploding balloons in a vacuum chamber, the dielectric breakdown of air, target practice with a vortex cannon, rainbow effects with diffraction glasses and the department’s home made hover craft.  Many thanks to volunteers, Zack Colbert, Lincoln Worley, Mirek Brandt, Garrett Jepson, Hanna Hansen, and Mattia Carbonaro.

Prof. David McIntyre of the Department of Physics, and Marisa Chappell of the School of History, Philosophy and Religion (SHPR) have been named the 2018 Honors College Eminent Professors. The award recognizes faculty for outstanding teaching, research and undergraduate mentorship.

David McIntyre has been teaching physics at Oregon State since 1989, after earning his B.S. from the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He has mentored two honors students’ thesis projects and was one of four faculty members who led the inaugural Honors College London Experience in the summer of 2016. He regularly teaches the honors recitation of the introductory physics course. He allows students’ curiosities to drive class discussion, asking them to submit a question each week about the course material or about any sort of physics question on their minds. “When students are first starting out, they’re very eager. I appreciate how curious they are. I try to make it centered around them,” McIntyre says. He has brought in lively demonstrations to spark that curiosity. For instance, he has used a Levitron – a magnetic toy – to show how frogs float using magnetism.

McIntyre in London.

While teaching a course on Isaac Newton in the Honors College London study abroad program, he particularly took advantage of the possibilities for designing tangible experiences that illustrated and underlined course themes, including a trip to Greenwich to do navigational measurements with a sextant. “I try to present things in different ways. Everyone learns differently. In physics we have equations, graphs and words – all different ways to say things.” He says that over the years, he has continuously refined his teaching, finding out how to reach students and better determine what they already know and need to know. And, in turn, the students’ energy and curiosity inspire him in his teaching. “I got into academia because you’re guaranteed to work with younger and younger people and their energy. It’s why I’m in it. It’s just fun,” McIntyre says.

The Honors College Eminent Professor awards are made possible through the generosity of Honors College donors, particularly Ruth Beyer and Joseph (Sandy) and Cheryl Sanders. For a list of previous honorees, see http://honors.oregonstate.edu/faculty-awards.

The work of OSU physics graduate student Lee Aspitarte was featured as a Scientific Highlight on the American Institute of Physics website. Lee’s recent experiments in Ethan Minot’s lab provide new insights about nanoscale pn-junctions. Nanoscale pn-junctions are a promising technology for maximizing the efficiency of light-to-electricity conversion.

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!”

FullSizeRender IMG_1297

On March 5th, the Department hosted 22 girls from Oregon middle schools who were taking part in the “Discovering the Scientist Within” Workshop (http://oregonstate.edu/dept/cosey/dsw) .

DSCF9300crop DSCF9319crop DSCF9317 DSCF9358 DSCF932crop

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:

DSC_0010 DSC_0041


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