Want to taste ice cream made with liquid nitrogen or get a hair-raising charge from static electricity? Those are just a couple of the hands-on demonstrations available at Physics Fun Day at New Mexico State University from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, March 24 at Gardiner Hall. The event is free and open to the public.
The Physics Graduate Student Organization coordinated the event, which includes interactive demonstrations of common physics concepts to inspire an interest in STEM programs. The activities are sponsored by the Department of Physics and ASNMSU with the Society of Physics Students and the Society for Engineering and Physics supporting the event with volunteers.
“Physics Fun Day is an annual outreach event, also known as the Physics Open House,” said Krishna Acharya, president of the physics graduate student organization.
“The event is designed to introduce the exciting world of physics to local high school students and other science majors from New Mexico State University. Through hands-on demonstrations, participants are provided with a glimpse into the fascinating world of physics.”
The Van de Graaff generator is one of the many demonstrations in which visitors can see the hair-raising power of an electrostatic charge. When a person is standing on insulating platform and they touch the sphere, the electrons will transfer to their body as they repel from the other electrons. The effect of this is most noticeable in a person's hair, where the electrons, having the same charge, will push each other away, causing the hairs to stand up and move apart.
More than a dozen experiments will be available for visitors to participate in demonstrations of concepts such as the principles of energy conservation and angular momentum as well as the more advanced topics of optics and space-time curvature. Under the “fun” side, guests may observe the intriguing process of creating ice cream using liquid nitrogen and they’ll be invited to taste it.
"There is always something surprising to see and experience at Physics Fun Day,” said Michael Engelhardt, PGSO advisor. “Have you tried to hold and move a spinning bicycle wheel? Have you let a magnet drop slowly through a copper tube? I always look forward to playing with this stuff at Physics Fun Day. What will there be this time?"
Visual demonstrations like these often capture the imaginations of young people and spark a passion for science that may last a lifetime.
“Many of the graduate students I work with remark that what steered them to a career in science was some observation of a natural phenomenon or a demonstration early in life that fascinated them and that they still recall vividly,” said Physics Professor Vassili Papavassiliou. “We hope that Physics Fun Day will inspire more children to a life of curiosity and exploration of the natural world.”
NMSU has hosted Physics Fun Day since 2009. By inviting the Las Cruces community members of all ages and having the demonstrations in multiple languages, people of all backgrounds are invited to learn more about physics and to find out how it works in everyday life.
“The Physics Fun Day is not just about fun, but it is also about inspiring the next generation of scientists and showcasing the importance of physics dissemination,” Acharya said. “PGSO strongly believes that diversifying the field of physics is crucial for the advancement of science and society as a whole. The experiments presented during the event will be available in Spanish and other languages to encourage more people to participate.”
While Physics Fun Day seeks to show the community and potential students the fun side of science, there’s also a serious side to physics that can lead to a successful career.
“Graduates of NMSU’s physics and engineering physics programs are in high demand with employers in New Mexico,” said Stefan Zollner, professor and physics department head. “Many companies, including White Sands Missile Range, Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs, or Intel and Lockheed-Martin are offering high-paying jobs. Hopefully, this Physics Fun Day will inspire some of the attendees to become rocket scientists by studying physics or engineering physics.”