News

US Scientists Hit the Road to Make Physics Fun

When science is boring or hard to learn, people shy away from it. That's why many U.S. universities sponsor road shows staffed with educators who try to make science fun. One of the largest and best-known outreach programs is The Little Shop of Physics at Colorado State University. Founded by CSU Physics professor Brian Jones in 1991, this toyshop for scientists produces gadgets and gizmos that turn concepts like magnetism and osmosis into something kids can actually get their hands on.

"One of our key messages is that science isn't something you have to do in a fancy laboratory," Jones explains, "You don't need fancy tools. You can do scientific thinking, you can explore the world in a scientific way with stuff you can buy at a garage sale, in the hardware store, stuff you already have around the house."  He shows off a drum made from a cardboard tube, a metal spring and some weights that demonstrates why thunder rumbles. 

Dozens of CSU physics students help run the Little Shop of Physics and take their scientific wizardry on the road. Every week, they load up demonstrations in their 'physics van' and drive to local schools to explain amazing things such as why bubbles float, and how tubes of sand can power a tiny light. Each year, the Little Shop van makes science more exciting for 15,000 young students.

Other universities have similar programs. Julie Conlon, who directs a Physics-On-The-Road program at Indiana's Purdue University, says that one of her missions is encourage more kids to choose science careers.

"There is a real concern that if we don't replace scientists soon, our country's in big trouble," she says. "We want to get kids thinking about science as what they might pursue when they grow up."

Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Doug Osheroff, once said that a visit from a physics van started him on his career.

"Every time I go into a school now," Conlon says with a laugh, "I'm looking at kids saying, 'well I wonder if this could be a Nobel Prize winner!'

Because young students look up to older ones, Colorado State University's Brian Jones has his undergraduate physics students do the demonstrations. Kevin Gosselin, who created the thunder drum, says he enjoys being a role model. "I like watching them learn," he says. "You can really tell when they're really learning something. It's really cool watching that."

Jones points out that the experience also helps the undergrads. "There's no better way to realize how well you understand something than by trying to share it with someone else," he says.  

He points out that you can't explain air pressure to a 9-year-old unless you know it well enough to recognize what's important and how to make this accessible.

To help more schools make science more fun, the American Physical Research Society hosts workshops on how to do Physics on the Road. The Physics Van program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign maintains a website of worldwide outreach programs. And The Little Shop of Physics team sometimes travels internationally, to inspire budding scientists, wherever they may be.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs