SFA hosts physics convention that entertains spectators

By Donna McCollum - bio | email

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Physics professors and teachers are always on the prowl for stuff that demonstrate how things work. Some of those ideas were demonstrated at a physics conference on the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University.

"You'll see in a moment why it's really interesting," said one teacher setting up his demonstration on mechanics.

It was part of the Texas Section of the American Physical Society, The Texas Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers and The Society of Physics Students conference.

It's kinda a 'show and tell' for physics professors. Most demonstrations are just plain fun to watch and hear.

Long metal cylinders were heated up to demonstrate how sound resonates. It turned out the shipping container they came in provided the best sound of all. Just goes to show you, the supplies can be cheap.

A University of Texas professor stepped up to the stage. "It cost about $1," he said. They call it "junk yard physics".

A bit of sand, a bottle and a chain poses the question, "is there a transition, that's well defined, from the fluid phase to the solid phase?"

The answer comes after a bit silliness with an impressive ending. The olive oil container of sand is pounded on the table for about 30 seconds.

"Ok. Let's see if it's a fluid or a solid phase," said the professor. He proceeds to lift the bottle of sand by the chain into the air.

"Oh, yeah," he approved. "Now lets find out if it is really solid?" Then he swings the bottle and chain in a full circle. The crowd starts to applaud. "Ok, it's a solid," he concluded.

The practical side of the demonstration is it helps pharmaceutical companies develop pills that are easy to swallow and correctly administer the correct dosage as the capsule or medicine dissolves.

All the demonstrations help teachers learn new ideas to teach their students "that physics is all around us. It's a part of our everyday life," said Dr. Walter Trikosko, SFA physics professor.

Unfortunately, the basic knowledge to enter physics is going out with the tide. "The math skills that we require in physics aren't there any more," shared Trikosko.

Hugh Henderson, a SFA graduate, now coordinating science instruction for kindergarten through 12th grade for the Birdwell School District is wanting to change that.

"We are teaching and introducing more science into the earlier grades," said Henderson.

Physics can be like child's play.  A candle is held to a helium balloon. The explosion was heard for quite a distance.

The universal science is exploding with applications."With our technology advances, we have to have, first of all, the fundamental understanding of how things work," said Trikosko.

And who knows, the answers might come through junk yard physics.

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