Physics With a Bang!

My daughter Olivia, who is seven, proudly calls herself a scientist. Mostly what that means is that she likes to break things open and see what’s inside.

Seeing a fantastic series of scientific experiments done as part of a holiday lecture put on by the University of Chicago Physics Department more or less confirmed her definition of science. In “Physics with a Bang!” professors Heinrich Jaeger and Sidney Nagel and their team blew up balloons filled with hydrogen, shot fire extinguishers, collapsed an industrial metal garbage can by sucking the air out of it, and used liquid nitrogen to send a second garbage can all the way to the ceiling of a two-story lecture hall.

Every explosion also taught a nice physics lesson, whether about vacuums, Newton’s Third Law, or the Laws of Thermodynamics.

In the world of academics, the career incentives are to publish academic papers, not to hold wonderful public demonstrations that excite children and adults alike about science. So in whatever small way I can via this blog post, I want to bring positive attention to professors Jaeger and Nagel (as well as the folks working in their lab) for taking the time to reach out to the broader community. (I’m not acting completely as an altruist here — I’m also hoping that some positive reinforcement will increase the likelihood of another exhibition next year.)

If you are interested in seeing more work from these professors, their Web site has an array of interesting things, including amazing photographs showing what happens when you drop a metal ball into a pile of sand. I guarantee that you will be surprised at what happens when you see it in slow motion.

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  1. Jim Wilson says:

    When I was growing up near Boston in the 40s and early 50s, the Museum of Science held Saturday “lectures” for kids. Several parents rotated in driving a bunch of us to the museum for the program, which had a huge impact on me and was one of the big reasons I wound up going into engineering. The lectures dealt with all branches of science. I especially remember the Tesla coil and the Van de Graff generator, but the owl and the eagle were cool, too.

    It helped, of course, that we stopped at Dunkin Donuts for a treat on the way home. Those were very good times indeed.

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  2. Jim Wilson says:

    When I was growing up near Boston in the 40s and early 50s, the Museum of Science held Saturday “lectures” for kids. Several parents rotated in driving a bunch of us to the museum for the program, which had a huge impact on me and was one of the big reasons I wound up going into engineering. The lectures dealt with all branches of science. I especially remember the Tesla coil and the Van de Graff generator, but the owl and the eagle were cool, too.

    It helped, of course, that we stopped at Dunkin Donuts for a treat on the way home. Those were very good times indeed.

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  3. Doug says:

    Watch Mythbusters, informative and entertaining.

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  4. Doug says:

    Watch Mythbusters, informative and entertaining.

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  5. scout29c says:

    Gee, I kinda thought Freakonomics was to Economics as “Physics with a Bang” is to Physics – only more so. I mean as dry as Physics is, at least there something physical that can be demonstrated. Which is more than you can say about Economics.

    There’s the old tried and true demo of taking kids and offering them their favorite candy and asking them how much they’d pay for a piece, and then after they have had it, make the offer again and again and again until they puke or realize the next piece has no value. You can enjoy that kind of demonstration only so much.

    Economics has vacuums, chilling effects, over pressurizations, laws and theories just like Physics, but unfortunately it does not lend itself as readily to demonstrations of these principles. Seems people have to suffer and make hard decisions to truly see Economics in action, and who wants to demonstrate that?

    That’s what makes this field of study so dismal and your site so “valuable”. So, you guys keep banging away at Economics.

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  6. scout29c says:

    Gee, I kinda thought Freakonomics was to Economics as “Physics with a Bang” is to Physics – only more so. I mean as dry as Physics is, at least there something physical that can be demonstrated. Which is more than you can say about Economics.

    There’s the old tried and true demo of taking kids and offering them their favorite candy and asking them how much they’d pay for a piece, and then after they have had it, make the offer again and again and again until they puke or realize the next piece has no value. You can enjoy that kind of demonstration only so much.

    Economics has vacuums, chilling effects, over pressurizations, laws and theories just like Physics, but unfortunately it does not lend itself as readily to demonstrations of these principles. Seems people have to suffer and make hard decisions to truly see Economics in action, and who wants to demonstrate that?

    That’s what makes this field of study so dismal and your site so “valuable”. So, you guys keep banging away at Economics.

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  7. Barb says:

    I miss Mr. Wizard!

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  8. Barb says:

    I miss Mr. Wizard!

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