A Week of Physics “Phun” at Marshall University

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A Week of Physics “Phun” at Marshall University


Sean P. McBride, SPS Advisor, Jon Keaton, SPS Member, and Ryan Vincent, SPS Member, Marshall University

Assistant Professor Dr. Curt Foltz explains the phase changes of matter as he and hungry students whip up several batches of liquid nitrogen ice cream. Most students in the morning demo session did not mind having dessert before lunch.Nearly 200 high school students from the communities surrounding Marshall University in West Virginia came out to the university on Friday, October 19th to experience hands-on physics demonstrations, receive a taste of phase changes with liquid nitrogen ice cream, explore the cosmos with the department’s portable planetarium, and investigate the nanoworld using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) at the College of Science. They were also treated to a pizza lunch, topped off with a quick game of projectile motion skeet ball and prizes!

“High School Physics Day is an opportunity for all physics majors and professors here at Marshall University to provide fresh minds with the same excitement we ourselves feel when observing the laws of the universe through interesting, thought-provoking, and sometimes tasty demonstrations,” according to Jon Keaton, Marshall University physics major.

Physics graduate student Ryan Vincent had the opportunity to teach high school students and some excited high school teachers the science behind scanning electron microscopy. “Most students in high school have had little to no exposure to state-of-the-art research practices such as scanning electron microscopy, so being able to share my interest and knowledge of the physical principles that go into it was truly an invaluable experience for them, as well as for myself,” says Vincent. “Being able to inspire curiosity and watching the pure joy and amazement on the students’ faces as they operated the controls of the SEM to acquire an image was rewarding within itself.”

High School Physics Day was the grand finale of Physics Week at Marshall University. Physics Week is an annual department-wide effort to engage students and faculty in reaching out to young minds and planting seeds of curiosity. In addition to High School Physics Day, Physics Week includes research talks by faculty and alumni, as well as lectures by a distinguished guest. This year, the physics department hosted world-renowned sports physicist Dr. John Eric Goff. He spoke twice, giving a colloquium talk, “Friction Challenges from the Sports World,” and an evening presentation for the public called “A Summer of Great Sports Science.”

High School Physics Day and the other Physics Week events were a collaborative effort. Faculty, undergraduate students, and support staff transported equipment across campus and set up demonstrations. Senior physics students and graduate students proctored lab midterm exams, freeing up faculty members to participate in all of the events. Dr. Sean P. McBride, chair of the recruitment committee for physics, and Nichole Jervis, senior administrative secretary, played a large part in the organization of the entire week, but the week’s success would not have been possible without the support of all members of the department, support from the dean’s office in the College of Science, and support from the university.

Assistant Professor Dr. Sachiko McBride demonstrates to students the concept of how pressure is the applied force divided by the area over which the force is exerted. The demo she made consisted of a bed of sharp nails with a simple latex balloon sandwiched between the nails and a safety plate. Students were amazed at the amount of force required to eventually pop the balloon.Associate Professor Dr. Maria Babiuc-Hamilton brought an electrifying demo to High School Physics Day with handheld Van de Graaff generators that produced static electricity. The students enjoyed controlling the direction of the Mylar shapes and trying to get them to touch and stick to the ceiling of the room. Photos courtesy of Sean P. McBride.

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