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.