Physics Is Phun - Department of Physics - University of Maryland

(Photograph by John Consoli)

University of Maryland

Department of Physics



Public Lecture-Demonstration Program Series

Click here to sign up for the Physics is Phun electronic mailing list and receive the yearly flyer and regular Physics is Phun announcements by e-mail. (No longer active.)

Click here for 2008-2009 academic year PHYSICS IS PHUN flyer, with information about the programs and how to get to the Physics Lecture Halls

Click your mouse here for lists of programs to be given in the current and future academic years, along with links to the detailed program topics, lists of demonstrations to be used, and accompanying PowerPoint presentations.

Since its inception in 1982, The University of Maryland Physics Department has presentd a yearly series of free public lecture-demonstration programs affectionately known as PHYSICS IS PHUN. Different programs are presented four times yearly, typically in early November, mid-January, mid-March, and early May, on dates governed by the University class calendar. The same program is presented on consecutive Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. A flyer describing the programs for the current academic year is linked above.

The purposes of presenting these programs are: (1) They supplement the standard high school physics course by exposing the students to a large array of phenomenological physics background. (2) They encourage younger students to study science (and even physics) by developing the students' interest in physics. (3) They provide some background for the scientific culture in which we live. We live in a scientific and technological culture. Like many of the non- science disciplines, it may be important to expose people in an experiential manner to some of the great scientific principles on which this culture is built. With these aims in mind, we attempt to provide programs which are both interesting and entertaining, involve little or no mathematics, and inlcude an engaging sequence of physics demonstrations which adequately survey each area of physics.

The PHYSICS IS PHUN series has proved to be quite popular, with attendence typically over 300 people per evening, for a total of about 4000 attendees yearly. Although the series originated for and is aimed at high school students, a number of students below high school age now attend regularly. Due to what we believe is interest derived from the compelling nature of physics demonstrations, a large number of adults attend the programs, including both high school and college teachers as well as scientists from area laboratories. PHYSICS IS PHUN has recently won an award of merit from the Maryland Higher Education Commission. If anyone else wants to give us an award, we will gladly accept, especially if it includes a large amount of money and a nice trip to an exotic location.

Each program has two segments: a hands-on interactive segment as the guests arrive, lasting from about 6.45 until 7:30 each evening, and a more formal lecture, lasting from 7:30 until about 8:45. The hands-on segment is monitored by a group of students, staff, and community volunteers, who interact with the visitors by helping people operate or observe the demonstrations, asking provocative questions, and sometimes even providing answers. As the volunteers arrive, we provide a modest pizza and soft drink dinner, both as a way for the volunteers to meet each other and to bribe some people (especially our physics students) into volunteering. Toward the end of the meal, we gather in the lecture halls to review the pre-show demonstrations, and each volunteer chooses one apparatus or area to supervise.

The formal lecture-demonstration program typically covers some area of physics by illustrating each concept using a demonstration. We try to include some physics-related cartoons and perhaps other audiovisual materials in each program to break up the monotony of the demonstrations. A typical program includes about twenty demonstrations, with about another twenty used in the pre-show interactive segment.

Because the Physics Lecture-Demonstrations Facility possesses a large inventory of lecture-hall size demonstrations, it has been possible to compile a collection of about sixteen different PHYSICS IS PHUN programs, covering virtually all areas of physics. We are now running the programs on a four-year cycle, so that people can attend for four years without seeing significant duplication.

Click your mouse on the small picture below to see the full-size poster for one of our Physics is Phun programs on a demonstration trip to Taiwan.

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