Loud, Messy and Educational: Colorado State’s Little Shop of Physics Open House Makes Science Fun and Easy

Fluorescent freeze-dried scorpions, Beethoven played on sewer pipes and 55-gallon metal drums crushed by air are just a few of the experiments created by Colorado State University’s Little Shop of Physics, a program designed to show students that science is fun, understandable and accessible.

The people at Colorado State who make physics fun are hosting the 11th Annual Little Shop of Physics Open House from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 23 in the Main Ballroom of the Lory Student Center. The theme of this year’s event, "The Amazing Physics of Everyday Objects," emphasizes how common items can be used to illustrate basic science principles. The event is free and open to children and adults of all ages.

"People too often think that science is hard and something only researchers can do in special labs," said Brian Jones, Colorado State physics instructor and director of the Little Shop of Physics. "Our goal is to show children and their families that science is fun, that anyone can do it, and that you don’t need expensive equipment to get great results."

More than 150 educational and entertaining hands-on experiments, dozens of them new this year, will be featured at Saturday’s open house. New experiments include:

  • Fluorescence in Nature: Objects such as flowers, rocks and freeze-dried scorpions reveal exciting dimensions in ultraviolet light.
  • It’s Raspberry Time: A digital clock is used to show participants how the eyes and brain work together to process images.
  • Hovercraft: Powered by a leaf blower and using great quantities of duct tape, the device glides across the floor with ease.

All of the experiments are constructed by using everyday objects to illustrate scientific principles in an engaging and often surprising way. The primary sources of the scientific equipment are garage sales, hardware stores and discount outlets.

In addition to hands-on activities, there will be a steady sequence of interactive presentations throughout the day. The presentations are generally loud and often messy but always educational. Some of the presentations include:

  • The Physics of Music: Songs will be played on sewer pipe, conduit, straws and other objects that are not generally considered musical, which teaches participants about the science of sound.
  • The 1,000,000-Volt Tesla Coil: A device that generates approximately one million volts at high frequencies and shoots an array of sparks and streamers into the air and through the body of the presenter.
  • Things that Glow in the Dark: Laundry detergent, soft drinks, rocks, chalk and a variety of common materials reveal secret colors and details.

Each year, Jones and group of undergraduate physics students take the Little Shop to more than 50 schools and 15,000 children throughout Colorado and neighboring states. The Little Shop of Physics also presents training workshops to teachers across the nation.

"My students and I talk about the importance of giving young people a chance to see that science isn’t scary or intimidating," Jones said. "But what keeps people coming back is the cool stuff. This is the spirit of science that gets kids excited, and I think it’s from kids like these that the next generation of great scientists will emerge."

For more information about the Little Shop of Physics Open House, including a sampling of online experiments, visit the Web at http://littleshop.physics.colostate.edu or call Jones at (970) 491-5131.