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Circus brings fun to physics


Activities, demonstrations show physics in action at open house

By Parth Desai • The Staff Writer • October 19, 2009

See also

2009 Physics Open House Photo Gallery

The physics department at Florida State University hosted its biennial open house, known as the Flying Circus of Physics, on Saturday, Oct. 17. The event featured hands-on activities, scientific demonstrations, science videos and live presentations.

The open house tradition began in 1991 and typically hosts about 400 to 500 guests every other year.

Children and parents, some local and some from farther away, participated in the hands-on activities and interactive experiments. One experiment, which fascinated some onlookers, demonstrated how particles of light reflect off water.

"I’m kind of interested in how light moves," said Augusta Raa Middle School seventh grader Harrison Reid. "I like how the particles reflect off of things."

The wide variety of experiments there was something people of all ages could learn and enjoy. Some of the children at the event particularly enjoyed an experiment where a demonstrator manipulated the air content in a marshmallow, causing it to expand and contract.

"(My favorite experiment was) probably the marshmallows," said first grade student Robert Kustom. "Because they are big, and then they go little."

The event highlighted basic concepts of physics such as friction, torque and the conservation of energy in an accessible manner to better capture the interest of the young students. To educate students on basic principles of aerodynamics, volunteers facilitated a paper plane making and flying contest. Graduate students explained to the students why the plane held up in air.

"If you show them the math, they’re not going to like it," said FSU physics graduate student and event volunteer Anthony Kuchera. "But if you show them the results, it’s impressive."

One of the marquee exhibitions at the Flying Circus of Physics was a planetarium show called "Dawn of the Space Age," which honored the 40th anniversary since the first moon landing. The show detailed space exploration from the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, to modern times.

In a presentation titled "Physics of Sports," FSU physics professor David Lind demonstrated how fundamental principles of physics apply to a variety of sports.

He explained that a curveball pitch takes on a curvilinear path due to the effects of spin on fluid flow.

Also, Lind demonstrated how friction provided by the edges of skis is important for turning when skiing, while a lack of friction on the bottom of skis enables skiers to move forward at high speeds.

"There’s this perception that physics is hard and boring," said FSU physics professor Grigory Rogachev. "We definitely want to fight that perception and we want to inspire kids really to do physics — that’s the major goal of this event."