Beyond Borders, with a BANG!

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Beyond Borders, with a BANG!

Peer Pressure Team Helps Bring Physics to All 


Blake McCracken

Angelo State University

Water and packing peanuts erupt from a trash can during a Peer Pressure demonstration

Our time at Yeso Elementary School in Artesia, NM, was almost over. Standing in front of a group of 3rd and 4th graders, we got ready to close our physics demo show with a bang . . . literally! The students were silent in anticipation, as were we.

Then, all of a sudden, a loud boom from a rubber trash can broke the silence. Water, packing peanuts, and a white haze shot into the air. As the excited students yelled, screamed, and clapped, a confused and distraught teacher bolted out of a nearby building to see what all the ruckus was about—only to find teachers, administrators, and 200 students enthusiastically applauding for some college students from Texas.

Memorable events such as this one are why SPS members in the Angelo State University (ASU) Peer Pressure Team continue the Physics Road Tour year after year. The tradition began in 2003 and has continued to be a great success every year since. During the week after university classes end, we spend hours driving from school to school. Each day is booked with at least two shows.

The continuous hustle and bustle is well worth it. By targeting schools with significant populations of underprivileged students, we can make a meaningful impact on students who might not otherwise be exposed to the possibilities of physics. Usually, the schools we visit lack the funds and resources needed to provide their students with a robust science curriculum. The enrichment the schools receive from our exciting demonstrations is welcomed, especially when they learn that our program comes at no cost to them.

This past year, in conjunction with the national SPS theme “Science Beyond Borders: Physics for All,” we decided to take our road trip out of Texas and into New Mexico. At 7:30 in the morning on Monday, May 14, our 700-mile journey began. We visited three schools in Texas on the way to New Mexico. Then, on Wednesday morning, the ASU SPS Peer Pressure Team made its out-of-state debut in eastern rural New Mexico. Five elementary schools welcomed us with excited groups of students and teachers. The students filed into gymnasiums, cafeterias, and libraries, where our team of 13 college students and two physics faculty members from Texas was ready and waiting to wow the kids with both familiar and unfamiliar equipment.

During our shows, physics concepts such as pressure, light, sound, and temperature were explored using marshmallows, fire, liquid nitrogen, lasers, and other props. Our team created a custom laser light show for each school, much to the delight of the children. We finished each show with one of our more boisterous demonstrations, either a nitrogen trash-can blast or a nitrogen thunder cloud.

We always make sure to provide students with some time to ask questions. That's the time we value most, because that's when the true interest of the students shows. Oftentimes we're unable to answer all of the questions in the time we have. Some students are so interested and inquisitive that they get back to class late.

SPS volunteers have noticed the children’s eyes, glued with anticipation to the presenter, just waiting for the climax of the demonstration. The soft and long “woooooow” that follows, spoken by the students in unison, gives us an immediate satisfaction born from the impact we are having on these children. We also receive hundreds of thank you letters from students saying they want to be scientists just like us when they grow up. This is extremely rewarding, and we anticipate that ASU physics will find a way to continue these annual outings. The value of introducing children all across the state, and even the nation, to the wonderful world of physics is well worth the trip. //

SPS members in Angelo State University’s Peer Pressure Team prepare to cross into New Mexico during their annual Physics Road Trip

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