Physics experiments bring waves of children to annual lecture


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Photo by Cameron Stroud |

Physics support specialist David Maiullo shoots smoke rings out of a garbage can to demonstrate the effects of standing waves during the Department of Physics and Astronomy's 13th annual Rutgers Faraday Christmas Children's Lecture. Although the show is meant to entertain, it is also intended to teach people about different scientific facts.


With demonstrations like exploding hydrogen balloons, a physics professor lying on a bed of nails and shattering glass through the use of sound, the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy entertained children and adults of all ages with its 13th annual Rutgers Faraday Christmas Children's Lecture.

The three-night event, which began Friday, attracted large crowds and filled the Physics Lecture Hall Saturday on Busch campus to full capacity.

"I love that all these people come to our shows and stuff themselves in this room for these science demonstrations," said physics support specialist David Maiullo. "Who could have thought it 20 years ago?"

Undeterred by the lack of available seating at the lecture hall, children and adults optimized space by sitting on the stairs and standing along the edge of the auditorium to view physics demonstrations on topics ranging from light, electricity and magnetism, all performed by Maiullo and physics Professor Mark Croft.

Photo: Cameron Stroud

Hundreds of people crowd into the Physics Lecture Hall on Busch campus Saturday to watch a variety of physics demonstrations co-performed by physics Professor Mark Croft.

Maiullo, who has been building and setting up demonstrations for the University for 26 years, said he expanded the collection in order to generate a bigger appeal to all types of audiences.

"I've changed a lot of things with the help of friends from other schools who also do demonstrations," Maiullo said. "We have our own association where we share and build on each other's ideas and this has helped us here at Rutgers, where we've been able to compile a huge collection."

The demonstrations are a way of entertaining people through humor and the imagination, as well as giving them information, Croft said.

"In our introductory physics courses, we find that people clearly enjoy the demonstrations if it in any way embarrasses the professor, endangers the professor and hopefully gets the professor dirty, which are real payoffs," he said.

The Faraday Lectures are named in honor of British physicist Michael Faraday, who contributed to research in electrochemistry and was one of the fathers of electricity and magnetism, Croft said.

"Faraday also founded the Faraday Children's Lecture in 1826 at London's Royal Society, which he performed every year. So it's a Christmas tradition that is still upheld in London," he said. "And we decided we wanted to do something like that [at the University] and named it as an homage to him."

One of the show's demonstrations involved Croft dropping objects like bananas, broccoli and flowers into liquid nitrogen, where temperatures can reach minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit. He then proceeded to smash each object with a hammer.

In a demonstration to illustrate the effects of standing waves, Maiullo took a garbage can with a small hole on one end and a rubber covering on the other and filled the can with fog. To the audience's amusement, he tapped the rubber covering and smoke rings flew in all directions toward the audience.

Maiullo said for a show this long — an hour and a half — preparation is integral for a successful performance.

"That's one of the reasons why it's hard for us to take [the Faraday Lectures] and move it into a different facility that would have even more seating because there's too many things in this room that are integral to the demonstrations. We need the setups that we have [at the Physics Lecture Hall on Busch campus]," he said.

But Maiullo said although the Faraday Lectures require a lot of work, the ability to engage with the public makes it worth it.

"It's so much fun and it's great to give back and show the public that [the University] wants them to take part, but it also shows the people that our undergraduate students are so involved and are great with sharing these ideas with them," he said.

Raj Mago heard about the Faraday Lectures through a colleague of his wife and traveled from Newtown, Pa., in order to attend.

"I absolutely enjoyed it. It was unbelievable, and it far exceeded my expectations," Mago said.

Mago's 10-year-old son Rishi said his favorite demonstration was one in which Croft was upon a bed of nails.

For 12-year-old Harry Seabrook and his friends, 13-year-old Charles Homans and 11-year-old Lucy Royt, the Faraday Lectures have turned into a birthday tradition.

"We've been coming here every year for the past five years or so, and now it's basically become a tradition to celebrate my birthday," Seabrook said.

The liquid nitrogen demonstrations are an all-around favorite for Seabrook, Homans and Royt, who all reside in New York City.

Joey Reichert, one of the undergraduate volunteers, said every year he looks forward to the Faraday Lectures.

"This is the best part of Christmas. We get to see all the happy faces," said Reichert, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.

Farah Malik, also a volunteer, said she enjoys encouraging children to learn.

"If you learn something and then we're able to show it to other kids and they get interested, it encourages them to come again," said Malik, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. "We like it because we do it for them and they do it for us."

Croft said the Faraday Lectures, along with his granddaughter, are the light of his life and hopes he and Maiullo's passion for performing the lectures will inspire future scientists.

"I hope [the audience will] become inspired to become scientists, and if not, I hope they come to think about science as like being good art — it enriches one's life and understanding how things work in the universe just makes you a happier human being," he said.


Andrea Goyma

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