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2001 SPS National Intern
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Mark Lentz
Mark Lentz
Northwestern State University, Natchitoches, LA

Internship: SPS National Office/SPS Outreach

Educational Outreach Meeting with Dr. Richard Berg, University of Maryland
Dr. Richard Berg  

Dr. Richard Berg with
some of his demo equipment.

Photo by John Consoli


Being that the main project that I am working on this summer at AIP deals with educational outreach, I was told to schedule a meeting with one of the top outreach educators in the nation. That man is Dr. Richard Berg from the University of Maryland.

When I found out that I would be visiting the University I thought it a good idea to familiarize myself with the various outreach programs that the Physics department is involved in. In exploring the UMD website I came across information and pictures of numerous outreach programs that were very well established and extremely well organized. The frequency of performance of these demonstrations was truly impressive. These weren't just quickly thrown together, poorly designed demonstrations. They were elaborate setups that had been specifically built for the purpose of fun and active demonstration.

When I got to the university, I was quite curious to see some of the demonstration tools that I had either read about or seen pictures of on the extensive website. In my searching for Dr. Berg, I found myself in a basement with rooms full of what looked like physics experiments that had been left standing. There were bicycle rims fixed to swivel stands that are used to teach about conservation of momentum, ballistic chambers that are used to teach about many different physical concepts, electron beam setups that are used to teach about the quantum nature of matter and many, many more. These enormous rooms were filled with such setups. They were organized and appeared to be in extremely good working order (I couldn't stop myself from trying out a few of them!). My immediate thought when I saw all of this was, "Wow, this must have taken quite a bit of time and a lot of work!" But to think that this extensive collection was constantly being used! These weren't rooms full of equipment that just sat. These setups are used year round for outreach programs for K-12 and for in class demonstrations for physics and physical science classes there at the university.

I finally found Dr. Berg and he was kind enough to take me through the demos room and explain to me the apparati of which I was unfamiliar. As it turns out, many of the setups that I didn't understand we sort of magic tricks. They were optical illusions, and very impressive ones at that! While we were touring the demos room, we were also gathering equipment for a demonstration session on properties of light and sound that he was to be giving within the next few hours to a group of junior high students. I was very interested to see "the man" in action, but I was unable to attend on that day, but Dr. Berg kindly invited to come back the very next day to see the show. As I said, the frequency of his performance of these demonstrations is quite impressive. It seemed to be one show right after another!

So, the very next day I went back to the University of Maryland and watched Dr. Berg perform his sound and light waves show to a group of at least 60 junior high students. His excitement and magician style presentation was impressive. His ability to explain concepts via everyday relation and graphic analysis of his demos in a diverse and amusing way was something that the students seemed to enjoy and no doubtedly learned from. He was very engaging. He would generally start off a demonstration by asking the students what they think would or should happen. Then after having explained and demonstrated a concept he would ask the students another question that was related to the concept and the correctness of the students answers would improve greatly. The entire program made me think back to one of my favorite daytime shows as a younger student, "Mr. Wizard's World". It was a learning program that was extremely interesting and engaging. It was very exciting and most of all, I learned from it.

I think that the work of Dr. Berg and educators like him are one of the most valuable assets that the science community has. These types of demonstrations increase science literacy and appreciation in the community. The enthusiasm and diehard work ethic of dedicated and involved educators such as Dr. Berg should be an inspiration to every aspiring scientist and science educators alike.



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