With ping-pong balls, dodgeballs, beach balls and balloons flying through the air in a large room at Settlement Canyon Elementary, one might think there was a party in progress.
In reality, third-graders at the school were sitting cross-legged on the floor Thursday afternoon, focused on a physics demonstration conducted by Patrick Wiggins, NASA Ambassador to Utah.
It’s all part of the University of Utah’s Phun with Physics outreach program for third-graders and sixth-graders, Wiggins said.
He’s been conducting these traveling physics educational shows since he retired from Hansen Planetarium in 2002. Before that, he provided physics demonstrations at the planetarium dating back to 1984.
“The whole idea is to get some laughs. It’s part science and part sideshow,” Wiggins said. “I love doing this. I see hundreds of kids each year, and I get to know some of them. Some will email me some great questions about science. Sometimes they ask better questions than adults do.”
Wiggins was equipped with his “toy box” of balls, a hair dryer, leaf blower and other gadgets to help demonstrate Bernoulli’s principle of fluid dynamics and Isaac Newton’s third law of motion.
Wiggins demonstrated these laws of physics by keeping a ping pong ball afloat in the air with a hair dryer and a larger ball afloat with a leafblower.
Wiggins said that when he was a young student watching science experiments, people would say “Don’t try this at a home.”
“I want you to try these experiments at home,” Wiggins told the students.
“The neat things about science is that you think about what you are going to do, think about what you think will happen when you do it, watch what happens and then write down what actually does happen,” Wiggins said.
The ping-pong ball stayed afloat in the air with a small hair dryer, but a bigger ball didn’t.
“We need more air,” Wiggins told the students. He then pulled out a big leaf blower out of his toy box to the delight of students.
The leaf blower was able to keep the larger ball in the air. The ball moved directionally in the opposite direction as air force from the leaf blower.
Newton’s third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Earlier in the week, Wiggins offered Phun with Physics presentations at Stansbury Elementary and Old Mill Elementary. He estimates he’s made hundreds of these presentations to school children for more than 30 years.
“When I was in elementary school back in the ’60s, a guy came to our school and talked about the Apollo landing on the moon and I was fascinated,” Wiggins said.
“Through these presentations, I hope somebody is inspired to learn more about physics or astronomy or some type of science,” he said.