University of Maryland

Department of Physics



Traveling Demonstration Programs

(Photograph by Jack Horne)

Click here for traveling physics demonstration programs in other areas of the United States as of 2005.

In 1989, through the generosity of the College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences and the Office of School/University Programs, the Physics Department purchased a van for the purpose of providing PHYSICS IS PHUN programs to local area schools. It has been fitted with a wheel chair lift for loading rolling mail carts of equipment and emblazoned with the PHYSICS IS PHUN logo. The PHYSICS IS PHUN van has been used for over twelve years, providing more than 360 traveling physics demonstration programs. During that period we have participated in science day programs at area colleges, provided teacher workshops, and presented our programs to a variety of conferences and special events. Each program is customed for the particular group and level to which it is presented, and several different programs involving a variety of physics topics have been developed. The goals of these programs vary widely, from entertainment at a PTA or Science Fair setting, to inspiration at the beginning of a classroom science unit, a detailed lesson using materials not generally available to the teachers, or a summary at the end of a unit with some indication of more advanced extensions of the concepts studied. At any level, the immediate goal is to engage the students using physics experiments, so that their interest in the subject might be developed. Some of these experiments can also serve as models or inspiration for student science projects.

If we are traveling to a school to present a program, it is generally convenient to present several identical programs sequentially to expose a greater number of students. The optimal group size is between 60 and 75 students; group sizes over 120 are discouraged.

Some programs which have been presented recently include:

1. Sound and Light. This program includes simple illusions, mirror tricks, a multiplex hologram, and several experiments involving the nature of sound and light waves. If time allows, a hands-on segment can be incorporated. (See below.)

2. The Physics IQ Test. A collection of counterintuitive physics experiments is presented where the audience members can vote on the outcome before the experiment is performed. Questions are selected on the basis of the level and type of group.

3. Laws of Motion. Starting from the concept of the center of mass and the center of percussion, this program then surveys Newton's three laws of motion. Finally, we cover the concept of energy using experiments which relate mechanical potential energy and kinetic energy.

4. Electricity and Magnetism. This collection of demonstrations includes Van de Graaff experiments, magnets, and a group of demonstrations covering what I call the "great laws of electromagnetism." Topics include the force on a current-carrying wire, ma gnetic induction, eddy currents and Lenz's law, and the magnet levitating over a superconducting disc. The grand climax is the infamous "can crusher," in which a capacitor discharges through a coil holding the can, splitting the can in half and blasting the two parts across the room.

5. States of Matter. After initially describing the states of matter and their properties, a series of demonstrations is employed illustrating changes of state and some of the resulting phenomena.

Probably the most popular program is Sound and Light, because of the captivating nature of the experiments and the immediacy of the senses of sight and hearing to human life. The experiments discussed in this program include:

(1) An illusion which we call SCIENCE.
(2) The magic box in which a toy rabbit inserted through a trap door in the top of the box is hidden behind a mirror.
(3) Large convex and concave mirrors, with a discussion of their images and applications of each type of mirror.
(4) The penny and double parabolic mirror illusion.
(5) The 360 degree multiplex hologram "Baseball" along with a discussion of how it is made and how it works.
(6) Use of a suspended SLINKY to illustrate the difference between transverse (light) and longitudinal (sound) waves.
(7) Use of two wire cookie-cooler racks to illustrate polarization of a rope wave and stopping the wave by crossing the polarizing wire racks.
(8) A lamp with two polarizing sheets which can be rotated to illustrate the transverse nature of light by comparison with the rope experiment.
(9) Optical activity of Karo syrup and photoelasticity of plastic.
(10) The speaker and candle experiment, in which vibrations of a candle flame placed in front of a loudspeaker at about 10-20 Hertz illustrate the longitudinal nature of sound waves.
(11) A hearing survey is conducted by sweeping the frequency of the oscillator down to less than 60 Hertz and up to over 20,000 Hertz. A brief discussion of infrasound and ultrasound is included.
(12) The spectrum of white light experiment is used to illustrate the effect of frequency on light waves, to introduce infrared and ultraviolet by analogy to infrasound and ultrasound, and to highlight the similarities and differences between sound and light waves.

Although there is not a fixed charge for these programs, we encourage a donation to the PHYSICS IS PHUN fund similar to that for other high-quality programs. Money goes to support both our traveling programs and our University PHYSICS IS PHUN series.

For further information please contact Dr. Richard E. Berg at the e-mail address below or at the mailing address or telephone number given on the home page of this WWW document.

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