Loud, Messy, Amazing and Educational: the People Who Make Science Fun are Bringing the Â??little Shop of Physics’ to Steamboat Springs

Levitating beach balls, electrostatic fleas and laser bongo drums are just some of the experiments that Colorado State University’s Little Shop of Physics is bringing to Steamboat Springs Middle School from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Nov. 25. Students will participate in more than 70 hands-on experiments designed to show children that science is fun, understandable and accessible.

"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. "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."

The theme of Little Shop’s educational outreach visit to Steamboat Springs is "Discovering Your Inner Scientist" and focuses on the idea that anyone can have fun doing science with very simple materials. All of the experiments are constructed by using common objects to illustrate scientific principles in engaging and often surprising ways. The primary sources of the scientific equipment are garage sales, hardware stores and discount outlets.

Following are some of the experiments featured at next week’s school visit.

  • It’s Raspberry Time: A digital clock shows participants how the eyes and brain work together to process images.
  • Pop Music: A pop bottle, wire and magnet create a stereo speaker.
  • Voice-O-Vision: A device made from an old black-and-white television lets students visualize sounds.
  • Hand-Cranked Generator: A hand drill is used to generate electricity.
  • Disgust-O-Scope: A variation on a kaleidoscope in which students use their hands, arms, ears, eyes and mouths to make images that are, well, disgusting!
  • Wave Machine: An old fan motor is used to make a piece of ball chain develop amazing wave patterns.

Each year, Jones and a group of undergraduate physics students take the Little Shop educational outreach program to more than 50 schools and 15,000 children throughout Colorado and neighboring states with the goal of getting young people interested in, and excited about, science. In addition to the traveling program, the Little Shop of Physics presents training workshops to teachers all across the nation and occasionally overseas.

"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 gets students excited is the cool stuff. This is the essential spirit of science that grabs kids’ interests, and I think it’s from kids like these that the next generation of great scientists will emerge."

The Little Shop of Physics, the only program of its kind in the United States, has been featured in People magazine and on "Nick News." The Little Shop also produces a television program, "Everyday Science," with the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colo.

Jones recently received the KMGH Channel 7 Everyday Hero Award for his success with the Little Shop program. He also has received the Colorado State University Alumni Association Best Teacher Award, the N. Preston Davis Award for Instructional Innovation and the College of Natural Sciences’ Faculty Undergraduate Teaching Award.

For more information about the Little Shop of Physics, including a sampling of online experiments and photos from recent school visits, go on the Web to http://littleshop.physics.colostate.edu.