Nerf Wars: An Untraditional Approach to Physics Outreach

Share This:



SPS Chapters on Building Community

Nerf Wars: An Untraditional Approach to Physics Outreach


Samantha Garza, SPS Chapter President, University of Dallas

Members of the University of Dallas SPS chapter hiding behind an obstacle made of an overturned table and chair. Photo by Tessa Rosenberger.One stereotype of students who study physics, and dare I say major in it, is that they spend much of their time in dark or quiet places—like basement labs. At the University of Dallas (UD), the stereotype is somewhat true since our department is in the lower level of our science building, or “the dungeon” as many have called it. As a result, our UD SPS chapter has made it a mission to change the community’s perception of physics and its members through friendly matches of Nerf Wars.

At least once a semester we hold an epic battle where we invite anyone on campus to join in on the festivities. Once we have a sufficient number of participants for the night, we break into two teams (red and blue), allow members to pick a Nerf gun from among our 20 small blasters, and begin a number of tactical games.

In our most common game, each group takes over a main stairwell and waits. At the appropriate time, the teams are released into the basement and begin exploring the battlefield. For these special occasions, club members and volunteers help to transform the entire lower level of the science building into a quasi–obstacle course full of overturned chairs and tables, used as makeshift forts, and dark rooms that can hide an entire scout squadron. Despite the twists and turns of the building, it isn’t long until members of opposite teams find each other, shooting commences, and the last team standing is declared the winner.

Another popular game is “Capture the Flag,’’ where several items from the student lounge are hidden throughout the obstacle course, such as gourds from our fall decorations. After the items have been hidden, members of each team must find and bring back as many items as they can before getting shot by their opponents. In another game, we hide the guns and ammunition, and students must find them in order to wipe out the other players and claim victory.

We have found that these battles are a great way to get nonscience majors and freshmen to meet the members of the physics department and get acquainted with the science building in a unique way. Each year students get more enthusiastic about the games, from inviting more friends, to dressing in all black to blend in with the room, to bringing their own Nerf guns to battles. Although Nerf Wars aren’t a traditional form of physics outreach, these events always get people interested in our department and the small community that we are building in "the dungeon."

 Two UD students prepare for battle. Photo by Gianna Milton.

Nerf War participants gather in the physics lounge to prepare for the next game. Photo by Reagan Miller.

More from this department

SPS Chapters on Building Community