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Science Week moves forward with a bang

Physics demonstrations teach and entertain students

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Published: Thursday, January 30, 2014

Updated: Thursday, January 30, 2014 00:01


Mikayla Kapp photo

USU lab supervisor James Coburn demonstrates how a vortex cannon works by sending smoke rings across the audience of the TSC Ballroom on Wednesday.

Rocks floated, eggs showed their super strength, balloons exploded and electricity flew at the “What’s Cool About Physics?” demo show during Common Hour on Wednesday in the TSC Ballroom as part of Science Week.

Physics department lab supervisor James Coburn entertained and educated students with a variety of tricks common to demonstrations he does in valley elementaries.

“The fire marshall allowed me to do things in this room that you’re not normally allowed to do in this room,” he said to the audience.

He later exploded a hydrogen-filled balloon by holding a torch to it, to the screams and cheers of audience members.

Coburn started the show off by demonstrating water density. He asked the audience if wood floats, then ducks — or at least a rubber duck. Both bobbed at the top of the glass tank.

“And sure enough, you can make rocks float,” he said as he placed a chunk of pumice in the water.

Audience members gasped as he placed a 10-pound bowling ball in the water. The ball hovered just above the tank’s bottom. Coburn explained a 10-pound, but not 12-pound bowling ball can float because it is just barely less dense than water.

Kellie Erickson, a senator for the College of Science, said this was her first time watching one of Coburn’s demos. Her favorite part was the Tesla coil, Coburn’s finale.

“This one over here is the one you’ve been waiting for,” he said, gesturing to the large device at the end of the stage. “This is a Tesla coil.”

The crowd “Ooh’d.”

Tesla coils, named after Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla, are a special circuit invented by Tesla in 1891. They are often used in educational demonstrations to show how electricity transmits wirelessly.

The coil is always a hit at demonstrations, said Jacob Dansie, a member of the Society of Physics Students. Dansie and the club assists with the valley demonstrations and helped build the coil used by Coburn.

“Tesla’s pretty much the father of modern society as we know it, at least modern industry,” Dansie said. “He did three-phase induction, built brushless motors, which you find in everything.

“Mostly, Tesla just took everything that was existing, like with motors and induction and current, and he improved it vastly.”

Dansie built the big vortex cannon used at Wednesday’s show. A vortex cannon shoots air rings similar to smoke rings, only visible. At the show, however, they actually did shoot smoke rings by focusing a fog machine inside for a few seconds and then setting it off.

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