A Cloud in a Cup, Laser Bongos and the Disgust-O-Scope: the Little Shop of Physics Open House Shows Kids that Science is Fun and Easy

The people who make science fun are hosting the 12th Annual Little Shop of Physics Open House, free and open to the public, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 22 in the Main Ballroom of the Lory Student Center at Colorado State University. More than 4,000 young people and their families are expected to attend the all-day educational event, which features over 150 hands-on experiments as well as a steady sequence of loud, messy, interactive and entertaining presentations.

Special to this year’s open house is that leading physicists from throughout the United States will participate in the event as part of the American Physical Society’s inaugural Conference for Physics on the Road. The society is meeting in Colorado to work with Little Shop director Brian Jones to develop national outreach programs to school children and to witness first-hand the success of the Little Shop program.

The theme of this year’s Little Shop open house is "Discover Your Inner Scientist" and emphasizes how science is all around and that anyone can have fun doing science with simple materials. The 2003 event features more room and bigger experiments. Writing with light, making clouds in a cup and using an old black-and-white television to visualize sounds are just a few of the experiments participants will be able to conduct at the open house.

"People too often think that science is hard or something only researchers can do with special equipment," said Jones. "We created the Little Shop to show students that science is fun, that anyone can do it and that you can use everyday household objects to get great scientific results."

All of the Little Shop experiments are constructed by using common objects to illustrate scientific principles in engaging and often surprising ways. The main sources of the equipment are garage sales, hardware stores and discount outlets. This year, the Little Shop staff has been busy creating dozens of new interactive experiments, including:

  • Plasma Mug: The magnet makes it spin.
  • Night Fishin’: A night vision scope lets you see inside things.
  • Cup o’ Cloud: What is a cloud made of? Hold one in your hand!

Some all-time Little Shop favorites will also be back this year, including:

  • 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.
  • 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!

Most of the experiments are Little Shop originals that cannot be seen anywhere else. Additionally, many of the experiments are brought out only once a year at the open house because they are to big to fit in the Little Shop van that takes the program on the road to schools across the state.

In addition to the hands-on activities, throughout the day there will be a variety of freezing, sparking, oozing and even exploding interactive scientific demonstrations, several of them new this year. Some of the presentations include:

  • Discover Your Inner Scientist: Go home and try an experiment tonight! More than a dozen very cool experiments kids can do with equipment they probably already have around the house.
  • The 1,000,000-Volt Tesla Coil: The big, bad Tesla coil has been reworked to be bigger and badder. It shoots sparks through the air – and even through the body of the presenter!
  • Under Pressure: See a 55 gallon drum crushed by air pressure – plus some messy fun with leaf blowers.

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. Little Shop staff recently returned from presenting programs and teacher-training in Belize and El Salvador.

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 Open House, including a sampling of online experiments, or about the inaugural Conference for Physics on the Road, visit the Web at littleshop.physics.colostate.edu or call Jones at (970) 491-5131.