Physics department hosts 7th annual open house

(photo by Lauren Crest) Dr. Adam Johnston demonstrates the laws of physics in the Circus of Physics
(Photo by Lauren Crest) Adam Johnston, a physics professor, demonstrates the laws of physics in the Circus of Physics

Every fall, the physics department at Weber State University opens its doors to the public and shares the potential fun of physics. On Friday night, the  department hosted its seventh annual Physics Open House at Lind Lecture Hall and Ott Planetarium. The first annual event drew more than 1,000 people. Hundreds of parents, students and children were expected to turn out for the event.

“When people hear the word ‘physics,’ they get scared,” said student Ben Sherman. “It’s something they don’t understand. This is a way to show the community that physics isn’t necessarily scary, but can be really fun.”

Outside, children lined up along tables to create their own rockets that the volunteers launched into the air for them. The children waited excitedly on the hill outside to catch the rockets that fell from the sky.

The Physics Club, which has been re-established this year, built a trebuchet to launch water balloons at the science building.

Inside the lecture halls, various professors gave demonstrations of physics. Professors Colin Inglefield and Adam Johnston gave various demonstrations of physics, which included lighting bubbles on fire, putting balloons into liquid nitrogen and lighting up a pickle, for a crowd that included parents, students, children and even Weber State University President Charles Wight.

“It was very physic-y,” said 15-year-old Lillian Ashlei about the Circus of Physics. “My favorite part of it was when they lit the bubbles on fire. It was like a big ball of fire; you could feel the heat from it. The pickle was pretty cool. They lit it up, but it smelled afterwards like fried pickles.”

Wight volunteered bravely after Inglefield declined the opportunity to lay on a bed of nails while Johnston broke a cinder block on him with a sledgehammer. Wight took a bow after donning the “safety shirt,” which was nothing more than a white T-shirt. After the safety helmet was in place on Wight, Johnston swung the sledgehammer and broke the cinder block.

“That was pretty cool that the university’s president let them do that,” Lillian said. “It shows a lot of trust to allow someone to break a cinder block on you, let alone while you’re laying on a bed of nails.”

Sherman recalled a metal analysis from the first time he attended the open house.

“They were running electricity through it, and by the conductivity you can tell what the metals are,” he said. “This guy put his gold ring on it, and he found out that it wasn’t really gold. He was a little upset, but that was kind of cool.”

The Ott Planetarium had various shows available for viewing, and the classrooms on the second floor of the Lind Lecture Hall offered different hands-on workshops, including ones on optics, lasers, magnets and experiments in electricity.

“The faculty are amazingly enthusiastic,” said Tabitha Hole, a visiting physics professor. “This was the idea of two professors. They really wanted to share their excitement about physics with other people.”

As to whether she’d come back again next year, Lillian said, “Definitely. It was a lot of fun.”