August 22, 2019 | 89° F

Rutgers holiday lecture series celebrates 20 years of making science fun

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During his presentation, Mark Croft, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, sits on a cart and fires a fire extinguisher behind him into an object held by David Maiullo, the physics support specialist for lecture hall demonstrations. The crowd goes wild.

This weekend, the 20th-annual Faraday Holiday Children’s Lecture at Rutgers brought a lot of laughs, learning and fun to the Physics Lecture Hall.

The Faraday Holiday Children's Lecture, originally called the Children's Christmas Lectures, was founded by physicist Michael Faraday in 1826, according to the event page.

"(Faraday's) goal was to communicate to children the excitement of scientific discovery,” according to the Department of Physics and Astronomy website.

The lecture series spanned three days, from last Friday to Sunday, bringing in approximately 1,000 viewers, said David Maiullo, the physics support specialist for lecture hall demonstrations, in an email.

Mark Croft, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, said that 35 years ago he started a traveling physics show, but when it got to be too much, he worked with Maiullo and the University to start an in-house production.

“We picked out demonstrations that would both illustrate physics principles and would be hopefully visually exciting,” Croft said.

He said the goal of the lecture series was to discover the fun in science.

The lecture kicked off with a demonstration on Newton’s first law, or the law of inertia, which states objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion, unless acted upon by an external force.

To demonstrate this, Croft quickly pulled a tablecloth out from under a plate, a vase and a candle on a table, all of which remained in place. He said that by pulling the cloth quickly, that friction breaks and the objects do not come flying off the table. 

Croft then demonstrated Newton's second law of motion: Force equals mass times acceleration. He struck three bricks of different weights with a hammer — the two with the smaller masses flew off the table, the lightest moving fastest and furthest, while the last one hardly moved at all. This was because it was a lead brick and had a much larger mass.

The idea of experimenting, asking questions and having fun while doing it were many themes throughout the lecture.

Later, Croft sat on the cart and fired the fire extinguisher behind him into an object held by Maiullo — accelerating Croft forward and getting an enthusiastic reaction from the audience.

The demonstrations continued throughout the night, with Croft and Maiullo taking turns performing them. Other crowd pleasers included Maiullo striking and propelling fog out of a garbage can with a circular hole cut in the bottom. The fog rings that came out were representative of gravitational waves, they said.

Maiullo took over for the next demonstration and held a bowling ball attached to a string. 

“So let me ask, can I pick up that massive bowling ball with that light little string?” Maiullo said.

When Maiullo first pulled the ball, he did so slowly and it did not break. He then pulled the ball quickly and it broke. He said there is a physics term called “The Jerk,” referring to a change in acceleration, which causes the string to break instead when he pulled on it quickly.

After his demonstration, he took the time to tell them what he said was one of the night’s important lessons.

“This is why we’re all actually scientists, because as human beings we’re always doing experiments in our heads all the time. We’re always looking at things and saying, ‘what’s really going to happen?’” Maiullo said to the crowd.

Ryan Stiesi

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