Science outreach to offer new programs

Ariel Lev

As the semester comes to a close, so too does the Kent State University Planetarium. The last public show was held April 27, but the Planetarium will reopen in the fall with different programs and new demonstrations.

“What we do changes all the time,” said Brett Ellman, associate professor in the department of physics. “Thousands of people come in every year, and we give shows for community groups, cub scouts and many others.”

Different shows are required for different age groups so the planetarium show is constantly changing.

“We usually discuss what’s in the night sky and take a tour through the solar system and galaxies, but it depends on age,” Ellman said. “We introduce things kids and adults can play with before and after the show to help them understand the concepts. We have a magnetically levitated globe which explains the sun’s magnetism, meteorites and some others.”

The department of physics does more than just give planetarium shows, however. The department is involved in a community outreach program that extends education to kids of all ages.

“We bring in groups — like, we have a scout night every year that brings in about 200 kids — and hold a planetarium show and a fun with physics show,” said Stan Christensen, emeritus professor and past physics chair. “We want to explain physics at their level and give them some idea of how science works. We give demonstrations using equipment that is homemade and intended to look like it. We want to show the kids stuff they can do themselves.”

The demonstrations include optical illusions, a flame tornado made with a record player, a demonstration of gravity using a small peg and a soda bottle, a demonstration of propulsion using fire extinguishers and a rolling chair, and demonstrations with liquid nitrogen.

“We burn things in liquid oxygen, freeze things in liquid nitrogen, levitate large superconductors with magnets, do electricity demos, and we do some microwave demos you probably shouldn’t do at home,” Ellman said. “We do a variety of dramatic stuff and we do requests when necessary. By the time the show is over, the room is really messy.”

These outreach programs are intended to help increase the number of physics majors at Kent State.

“We need more science majors so we are trying to get them interested in physics in a way they never thought about before,” Christensen said. “There has been a slight increase in physics majors, maybe because of our outreach program.”

The department is also involved in a program called Operation Physics, funded by the Ohio Board of Regents. The program, for upper-elementary and middle school teachers, is meant to teach the teachers about physics they can do in the classroom.

“We give them books full of hands-on, cheap, easy experiments to go do with their kids,” Christensen said. “The teachers get college credit but don’t pay for the course, and they get some equipment to do experiments.”

The programs offered at the planetarium bring kids together to involve them in the physics program and get them interested in science at a young age.

“The program serves a lot of purposes,” Ellman said. “It’s educational, it’s fun, it’s good community outreach and we have a lot of demos designed for kids. These are substantive free resources we want the community to take advantage of. Also, this is a great way to help people in area communities.”

The planetarium shows and demonstrations will resume again in the fall, and the department will once again open the doors to kids and adults of all ages.

“The primary purpose is to provide an opportunity for people to appreciate the wondrousness of the universe,” Ellman said. “However, education is important, but I want people to enjoy themselves and enjoy the beauty of life.”

Contact sciences reporter Ariel Lev at [email protected].