Tom’s first Physics in the Field

28 July 2014

This summer the IOP East Midlands Branch brought Physics in the Field to both the Nottinghamshire and the Derbyshire county shows.

Tom’s first Physics in the Field

Massive thanks goes to all the volunteers who gave up their weekends to enthrall the general public with their physics busking skills; we certainly couldn’t do it without them.

Here’s what Tom James, one of the volunteers at the Nottinghamshire county show, had to say about his first experience of Physics in the Field.

My first Physics in the Field experience took part in the quintessentially British setting of a county show. Think large food marquees selling a wide range of local and regional produce, a classic car show and even a dog and duck display. This may be the last place on Earth you expect to find a physics stall, but therein lay the opportunity.

I arrived bright and early to receive my brief on the day’s selection of displays, or as we liked to call them, tricks. The equipment consisted of everyday items you would find in a family home – balloons, potatoes, coat hangers etc. etc.

The first couple of demonstrations inevitably suffered a few minor hiccups, but after two or three demonstrations I felt like a seasoned magician, armed with a balloon and a kebab skewer. I wanted to show my well-honed ‘magic’ tricks to anyone who was willing to listen. Fortunately volunteers to participate in the show were not hard to come by. Children of all ages were fascinated to take part in and learn about all the different demonstrations we had set up. Amazingly, so were many adults. A favourite moment of the day was when a man of 60 (or so) looked at me in utter disbelief when I told him that I could put a kebab skewer through a balloon without it bursting. As the skewer emerged from the balloon I could feel the sense of amazement this gentleman felt; he was hooked, and proceeded to work his way down the stall attempting all the tricks.

Another amazing feature of the show was seeing the fun that could be had by a group of children with nothing more than cups tied with string, stretching the string out and communicating with each other across the hall. No iPads required here! After parents saw how much fun the kids were having – creating vortices in bottles filled with water, piercing potatoes with straws and even firing rockets with vitamin C tablets and water – we were asked if we did children’s parties!

The day was a huge success and I would definitely recommend it to everyone. The sense of achievement felt when the children managed to carry out the tricks all by themselves was overwhelming. Hopefully some of the people we saw will be drawn toward studying physics in the future, or at the very least, demonstrating the tricks to their friends at home. I also hope that the older gentleman I demonstrated the balloon skewer trick to will be pulling it out at dinner parties for many years to come.