Shooting Sparks, Amazing Waves and Flying Pigs: Colorado State’s Little Shop of Physics Open House Makes Science Fun and Easy

A million-volt coil shooting sparks into the air, flying stuffed animals and a magnetic hedgehog are just a few of the more than 150 educational and entertaining hands-on experiments available for kids of all ages to try at the 13th Annual Little Shop of Physics Open House. The event, free and suitable for all ages, runs from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 28 in the Main Ballroom of the Lory Student Center.

The program, created by Colorado State’s Little Shop of Physics, is designed to show students that science is fun, understandable and accessible. This year’s open house theme, "Please Try This at Home," emphasizes how common items can be used to illustrate basic science principles and that science is all around in everyday life.

"People too often think that science is hard and that only researchers can do it in special labs with expensive equipment," said Brian Jones, Little Shop director. "Our goal is to teach children and their families, through hands-on experience, that science is fun, that anyone can do it and that you don’t need special materials to get great results."

The staff at the Little Shop have been hard at work over the past year developing dozens of new experiments and making some old classics bigger and better than ever. A few of the new experiments include:

– Sound Racer: The louder you talk (or yell), the faster the car goes, demonstrating energy conversion at its best.

– Clippy the Magnetic Hedgehog: Pet the hedgehog and feel the magnetic fields.

– Magnetic Mystery Message: Write with magnetic fields and use a special viewer to see the results.

– Writing with Light: The light leaves a ghostly trail… an Albert Einstein special!

All of the experiments are created by using everyday 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.

Along with the hands-on activities, interactive presentations by Little Shop staff will be conducted throughout the day. The presentations are often loud, sometimes messy, but always educational. Some of the presentations include:

– Please Try This at Home: A dozen experiments to try at home, including flying stuffed animals and more.

– The Million-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.  

– Cookin’ With Physics: Nontraditional ways to make traditional foods.  

There also will be a collection of modestly priced activity kits available at the open house so participants can take some science fun home.

"My students and I focus our experiments and presentations around 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 to the open house every year 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."

The Little Shop of Physics, based in the Department of Physics at Colorado State, also does outreach projects in the region. Each year, Jones and a group of undergraduate physics students take the Little Shop to more than 50 schools and 15,000 children throughout Colorado and neighboring states. In addition to the traveling program, the Little Shop of Physics presents training workshops to teachers throughout the country and in other nations.

The Little Shop also  produces a television program, Everyday Science, with the Poudre School District Channel 10.

For information about the Little Shop of Physics Open House, including a sampling of online experiments, visit the Web at or call Jones at (970) 491-5131.