Physics Across the Ages: Engaging the Community from Pre-K to Adults

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Physics Across the Ages: Engaging the Community from Pre-K to Adults


Dr. Jency Sundararajan, Associate Professor of Physics, SPS Chapter Advisor, and Dr. Shayna Burchett, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, SPS Member, Missouri Southern State University

Physics is for everyone. It’s in everything we do, everything that surrounds us. That is why it’s important to encourage enthusiasm for physics. Enthusiasm and excitement provoke curiosity, which makes learning fun and enjoyable. 

Children at NICU Freeman watch the alignment of magnetic field lines as they move the magnets.

Missouri Southern State University’s SPS chapter constantly strives to increase excitement about physics and help everyone in the community feel welcomed. Our chapter participates in several outreach events throughout the year, facilitating active interactions with the audience while also promoting personal connections, leadership experience, and communication skills. We aim to make physics entertaining for all ages via hands-on activities, fun demonstrations, dynamic interactions, and thought-provoking discussions.

In an event for some of the youngest in our community, we joined hands with the Chemistry Club and Women in Science on campus to entertain pre-kindergarten children—the curious and enthusiastic little scientists at MSSU’s Lion Cub Academy—with some super cool experiments. The children eagerly made slime and yummy liquid nitrogen ice cream and participated in a friendly competition to crown “Mr. Hulk” as the one who could pop a balloon on a bed of nails the fastest. Two groups competed to demolish a paper cup castle with a mini-launcher. All had fun watching their friends try out new hairdos with a Van de Graaff generator, and some performed color-changing chemistry experiments. 

One of the students from Lion Cub Academy shows off a cool new hairdo. Photos courtesy of Dr. Jency Sundararajan.

At Spring Grove Primary Center in Galena, Kansas, first graders enthusiastically participated in physics activity booths and were excited to watch science in action. Meanwhile, first graders from Columbia Elementary toured the MSSU campus, as they do annually, learning about science through some fun demos along the way.

MSSU Women in Science (WIS), which launched in Spring 2019, collaborated with SPS to perform physics demos for fourth and fifth graders at Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School and inspire young children, especially girls, to pursue degrees in science. We also held a reading event that focused on the contributions of women scientists to various fields. The students were actively involved in the joint event, asking and answering questions, volunteering for demos, and learning about women scientists.

At the middle school level, our chapter actively engages local students participating in the Missouri Southern Regional Science Fair. The students, who are burning with curiosity and excitement about physics, present scientific research findings and participate in hands-on SPS-led activities.

Sophomore Day is an annual on-campus event in which area high school sophomores tour the campus to learn about the wide variety of degree programs and opportunities at the university. In order to engage the students with conceptual assumptions, analysis, and simulations, our SPS chapter collaborated with the Math Club to set up multiple mini-launch stations with variable parameters. We challenged the sophomores to hit the target in a minimum number of trials. We also performed discussion-based demos on inertia, angular momentum, low-friction tracks, wave motion, the electromagnetic spectrum, and static electricity.

At the invitation of high school physics teachers at Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School, our SPS chapter gave a talk highlighting the importance of pursuing science degrees and women in STEM for ninth graders. We also performed demonstrations on waves, rotational motion, circuits, electricity, and magnetism. The students particularly enjoyed building circuits in groups, measuring current and voltage.

Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals at Freeman Health System invited our chapter to provide an activity booth at the fifth annual Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) reunion for Freeman NICU graduates and their families. In response, SPS students hosted an interactive booth featuring angular momentum demonstrations, boom whackers, magnetic slime, bubbles, a bed of nails, and other activities.

Every September, Missouri Southern sponsors the Third Thursday event, which spotlights local art, music, entertainment, and food on downtown Joplin’s Main Street. This is a great opportunity to communicate science to a diverse cross section of the local community. SPS members are actively involved in this event, presenting physics demos and conveying the field’s complex concepts in simple, efficient, and powerful ways.

Whether working with preschool students or adults, our goal is to create a motivating environment that stimulates an interest and passion for physics. “The introduction of science at an early age enhances a child’s cognitive development through curiosity and wonder,” says Nikki Tappana, director of the Lion Cub Academy. “The [SPS] members cultivated a sense of science wonder for the children and encouraged them to seek out more scientific information on topics relevant to their everyday lives.” We hope this holds true for every person that attends one of our outreach events.

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