Monday, October 12, 2015

Physics Phun for Everyone

This past Saturday, the Department held an open house for prospective students to learn more about what it means to be a physics major at JMU. Dr.Virani, Director of the John C. Wells Planetarium, talked to the potential students and their parents about academic life, research opportunities, and how physics can benefit on an inter-disciplinary level.  After hearing Dr. Virani, the students then explored the Department and talked to the professors and students upstairs.

While Dr. Virani and the research labs were upstairs entertaining the students already interested in the major, a team of students were downstairs showing off the "phun" of physics to the general public, and getting even more students to consider physics at JMU.  Needless to say, we blinded them with science.

Here we showed people how great static electricity can easily be produced by the "rubbing off" of charges, even if the source of power is man-driven.  This setup also showed the public how those charges can break any insulation in the air to cause a small lightning strike, as well as how the distance between the two charged points increases the probability of discharge.

Audiences marveled at the long streaks of electricity produced by the Van der Graffe, and at how rapidly electricity could be shot from the charged ball to the grounding stick.

All while the user remains unharmed!

They were even more impressed when they saw the electric discharge go through an uncharged metal sphere to get to the grounding stick, thus completing a circuit.

As with any good physics demonstration, we persuaded people to trust us and touch the Van der Graffe so their hair would stick up.

Many did so, and even more talked with us about the physics of the charge distribution, how the circuit is completed using your own body, and what happens where your hands are taken away.

Thanks to all of the students and faculty who helped make the Physics and Astronomy open house a reality, as well as all of the people who visited us!

We hope to see you experimenting with angular momentum in our halls again!