The DIY Demonstration Box Project: A Shift in Outreach Strategy

Share This:



Interactions - SPS Chapters in Action

The DIY Demonstration Box Project: A Shift in Outreach Strategy


 Molly Griston, SPS Chapter Social Chair and Past President, Fiona Gaffney, SPS Chapter Business Manager, and Vashisth Tiwari, SPS Chapter President, University of Rochester

In 2020 we witnessed a new sociopolitical awakening through Black Lives Matter protests around the country. For our chapter it was a time of reflection. We realized that simply supporting the protests and condemning racism, white nationalism, and police brutality were not enough. Given that physics remains one of the least inclusive academic fields, our chapter decided to make intentional changes so that we can play our part in making physics a more diverse and inclusive space.

One of these changes involved adjusting our outreach strategy, which previously relied on K–12 students coming to us for on-campus events. We recognized that this strategy had helped to reinforce the systemic disadvantages faced by underprivileged students while favoring students with the resources to visit our campus. In order to address this, we decided to work with nearby schools, especially those in the Rochester City School District (RCSD), where the population is majority low-income students of color.

Due to COVID-19, however, it was impossible to implement traditional outreach efforts such as school visits, and we had to find another way to engage with these students. So, with the support of an SPS Marsh White Award, we created the DIY Demonstration Box Project. The project was the brainchild of Fiona Gaffney, then our chapter’s outreach committee chair, and other Executive Board members. Each box contained the materials for three do-it-yourself physics demonstrations: a popsicle stick catapult, a constellation circuit made of conducting tape and LED lights, and a diffraction grating.

We designed the boxes so that students could engage with physics in an enjoyable way while learning about projectile motion, electricity, and the nature of light. For each activity we included written instructions and brief video lessons highlighting relevant physics concepts. We made 175 student boxes and delivered them to RCSD teachers who expressed interest in participating.

Because the students assembled the demonstrations themselves, the project promoted physics in a hands-on, creative way. In addition, the activities were COVID-safe and accessible to more students―participation wasn’t limited to classes with the means to visit our campus.

We’re still collecting feedback from teachers and students on the activities and related physics concepts, but the initial responses have been encouraging. Hopefully, the excitement of the boxes will spread beyond the students as they share the demonstrations with their family and friends.

Through the activity planning, box creation, and common goal of sharing our love of physics, this project brought our chapter members at the University of Rochester closer to each other and to our goal of promoting a more diverse and inclusive physics community. The DIY boxes mark the beginning of our reformed outreach approach. We hope to continue working more closely with RCSD schools and playing our part in making physics a more inclusive and accessible community. //

University of Rochester SPS members pack the DIY demonstration boxes. Images courtesy of the chapter

Get Money for Chapter Outreach Events!

The University of Rochester received an SPS Marsh White Award to help support this project. SPS Marsh White Awards provide up to $500 in funding to support SPS chapter projects designed to promote interest in physics and astronomy among students and the general public. They are funded by the generous donations of Sigma Pi Sigma members and friends of SPS. Applications are due November 15 each year. For details visit

More from this department

Interactions - SPS Chapters in Action