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Syracuse University physics professors make people’s hair stand on end – but not from fright.
Dozens of kids and adults shopping at Carousel Center took a chance Saturday afternoon to see if professors and high school teachers could make their hair rise by charging them up on the Van de Graaff generator. It was one of many experiments at an Orange Physics outreach event to get the public interested in science.
‘We’re (putting on this event) because science is important and we need to communicate that to the public,’ said Sam Sampere, one of the event’s organizers and SU physics department lab manager.
The event was put on as part of Nancy Cantor’s inaugural year, which commits SU to increased interaction with the Syracuse community, as well as World Year of Physics 2005, a national organization which commemorates the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s ‘miraculous year,’ when he published three scientific papers all in one year, Sampere said.
Sampere, who wore a bright blue vest featuring multicolored planets over an orange shirt, gave his last, most simple reason for putting on the event.
‘Y’know, science is darn fun and exciting,’ he said.
Orange Physics, which organized the seven hour-long event, also hosts a series of workshops for high school science teachers one Saturday morning each month in SU’s physics building, said Allen Miller, a SU physics professor and organizer of the event.
The workshops are supported by a yearlong grant from the Central New York-based John Ben Snow Foundation, Miller said.
Out of the $10,000 grant, Orange Physics uses $3,000 to buy new equipment, which is lent to area high schools on a rotating basis for one-week use, Miller said. The leftover $7,000 is allocated for the ‘make-and-takes,’ equipment local high school teachers create themselves at the workshops.
‘They can use (the make-and-takes) either for a lab or a demonstration anytime they want.’ Miller said.
About 20 high school science teachers from the CNY area, who participate in the monthly workshops, came at various times to help out with Saturday’s event, Sampere said.
At the event, shoppers crowded around the mall-provided tables in the center’s atrium, between Old Navy and DSW Shoe Warehouse, as SU physics professors, local teachers and graduate students conducted experiments that demonstrated the laws of physics.
One of the experiments Miller presented at his table was called ‘The Singing Tubes.’ Children and adults twirled the neon yellow, orange and green tubes to create a sound. The faster they twirled the tubes, the higher the sound’s pitch would get, Miller said.
Another experiment involved swiping a green tablecloth from under a serving plate without letting the plate drop to the floor.
Sandy Gorthey, 43, a North Syracuse resident, was the last to try the Van de Graaff generator experiment, after her daughters.
She stepped onto the insulator, a plastic, transparent stool. She then put her hand on a metal sphere slightly larger than her own head, which stood on a 2-foot-long, vertical motor-powered belt, and waited for Paul Preczewski, a volunteer, to power the motor and make her hair stand on end.
Then came the spark. The spark comes after the person touching the generator comes into contact with a different charge, which can be experienced by giving a high-five or simply touching friends or family.
‘I make the charge different from everything else,’ said Preczewski, a science education graduate student, explaining how someone’s hair like Gorthey’s could stand on end. ‘The difference is called an electric potential.’
Gorthey and her two daughters had come to see the physics demonstration after an afternoon of shopping.
‘We were trying to get our hair to go up, but it won’t go up today,’ Gorthey said.
Her daughters were thrilled after their experience charging up on the generator.
‘You actually feel charged,’ said Deanna Zbikowski, 13, one of Gorthey’s daughters. ‘You can feel the static in your arm.’
After he charged shoppers up with the generator, Sampere took their picture in front of a life-size cardboard cutout of the famous physicist Albert Einstein.
‘OK, you have to say ‘Physics is great,” Sampere said to one little girl, hair still frizzy from the static electricity, as he took her picture.
The fair received a mother’s stamp of approval.
‘Any stuff like this is good because it gets the kids interested in science,’ Gorthey said.
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