A Matter of Science

MU Physics
Department’s open house draws students and parents
Tuesday, April 12, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:17 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Can you hammer a nail with a banana?

Hundreds of people who visited the MU Physics Department’s open house Saturday know the answer is yes —if you happen to have liquid nitrogen at your disposal.

Addie Dove, an MU junior physics major, performed the experiment for the crowd to show how freezing a soft object can make it solid enough to use as a hammer.

Students in elementary and junior high schools and their parents filled a large lecture hall in the Physics Building to watch graduate and undergraduate physics students present demonstrations showing the properties of light, sound, pressure and matter. Four students from Jefferson Junior High School helped out.

“The kids are much more into it this year,” said Mike Gramlich, a senior physics major. This was the second year the department has held the open house.

The program was organized by Dorina Kosztin, director of undergraduate studies for the Physics Department. In an e-mail, Kosztin said more than 400 people attended last year. Gramlich said he was sure that more people came this year.

“It is one of the things that we can really do for the community,” said Abbey Knaus, a senior physics major who helped in the hands-on area.

Judy Schermer brought her third-grade son, Joe, and four boys from his class.


Zach Jarvis, 9, guides the hand of Austin Dart, 2, along the surface of a plasma plate during an interactive demonstration of static electricity during the MU Physics Department’s open house.

“Even if all they take out of it is fun, they still have that positive experience with science,” said Schermer, who enjoys taking her two sons to learning events sponsored by MU departments.

Children got so excited about the presentations that many ran from their seats down to the front to try to touch the pieces of shattered bananas and racquetballs. Rather than bouncing, the frozen racquetballs broke into pieces as soon as they smacked the floor; and frozen red carnations practically disintegrated when they were knocked against a desk.

Hands-on activities were held in smaller rooms. Parents with their hands full of newly made spectrometers, kaleidoscopes, periscopes and color wheels followed their children from activity to activity.

The children were also given science “recipes,” such as how to make a tornado in a bottle, so they could, try this at home.

In one room, Amy Vinyard, a fifth-grader from Nevada, Mo., sat at a table making a spectroscope, an object that splits the light into its component colors. Her parents, Julia and Phil Vinyard, helped organize her project. The Vinyards are preparing to move to Columbia.

“We decided to bring her because she loves science,” Julia Vinyard said. “This is one of the reasons we are so excited to move to a university town.”

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