Nailing down physics

Anna Riggenbach

CSU professor makes learning science interesting for students

Jearl Walker, Cleveland State University professor, performs his bed of nails trick during his flying circus of physics presentation yesterday. KATIE ROUPE | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Jason Hall

Physics can apply to many aspects of life, from shrimp to killer sound waves to ballet.

Cleveland State Professor Jearl Walker addressed each of these in his performance yesterday in the Liquid Crystal Building.

“I want (to teach) stuff that people will think back on for the rest of their lives,” he said. “The things that I find more interesting are things you could do in the kitchen.”

Walker published his book The Flying Circus of Physics to show others how physics takes place in real life.

Kent State physics professor Jonathan Selinger introduced Walker by saying he was happy to have numerous departments collaborate to bring Walker to Kent State.

“It’s great to have the sciences coming together for an event like this,” he said. “(Walker) has found fascinating physics in everyday life. I’m very glad to welcome him out here.”

Walker began his presentation by showing slides on how physics affects everyday life. Some of the slides included:

• Lightning: A person can die from lightning even if he or she is not directly struck by it, Walker said, adding that hair standing on end is a sign of danger.

“If your hair stands up, its nature’s way of saying you’re about to die,” he said. “So run.”

• Ballet: The movements executed by ballet dancers look harder than they actually are because physics is involved. “Ballet is beautiful partly because of physics,” he said.

• Woodpeckers: The birds manage to constantly peck at tree trunks without suffering brain damage because their brains are more strongly attached to the skull and they peck in a straight line.

Walker also demonstrated how physics can work by laying on a bed of nails in front of the audience.

“There’s nothing fake about this,” he said. “These are really sharp. If there were only one nail here, I’d be a shish kebob.”

Walker had planned on putting his hand in molten lead to show how physics would have kept him safe. The lead was not hot enough for the experiment, however, and Walker said he did not want to risk losing his fingers in front of the audience.

Graduate physics major Bill Ryan said he enjoyed Walker’s lecture.

“I’m going to try the whole lead thing tomorrow,” he said. “(Walker) puts the fun in physics.”

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Anna Riggenbach at [email protected].