Lights and Action: Colorado State University’s Little Shop of Physics Shows Kids that Science is Fun

Using exhibits such as a million-volt coil shooting sparks into the air, flying stuffed animals, liquid nitrogen ice cream and a giant plasma ball, the goal of Little Shop of Physics is to get people, particularly children, to see science in a new light.

Little Shop of Physics, Colorado State University’s physics outreach program, will accomplish that goal using light as the focus of its 14th annual open house from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Feb. 26 in the Lory Student Center Main Ballroom. The event, free and suitable for all ages, will include more than 150 exhibits centered on the theme, "Seeing the World in a Different Light." As many as 5,000 people are expected to attend.

"We want people to learn that science is something anyone can do. Science is just a way of looking at and learning about the world," said Little Shop director Brian Jones. "We want people to get their hands on things, to make things happen – and to find out that doing science can be a lot of fun."

The open house will include experiments conducted in the light and the dark as well as presentations on the physics of music, everyday objects and light. New experiments this year will let participants see through their skin to see blood vessels, see freckles they never knew they had, see colors that aren’t there and write with light. All of the experiments were built using the Little Shop approach of taking everyday objects and using them to illustrate scientific principles in an engaging way. The primary sources of equipment are garage sales, hardware stores and discount stores.     

The Little Shop of Physics open house also coincides with the World Year of Physics, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein publishing works on relativity, the speed of light and the photoelectric nature of light that revolutionized science. Colorado State is one of 16 sites nationwide chosen to conduct outreach as part of the World Year of Physics. Part of Little Shop’s goal is to encourage students to study sciences.

"Kids are natural scientists," Jones said. "When we watch kids at work in the Little Shop, they pick something up, turn it around, spin it, pound on it – and see what happens. That’s how they learn about the world. It’s this childlike spirit of investigation that we want to encourage."

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.

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.