Physics Hits the Road at Colorado Conference
By Pamela Zerbinos
In late February, all roads led to Fort Collins, Colorado, as around 5,000 members of the general public and 55 mobile physics program coordinators from 38 institutions descended on Colorado State University for the Little Shop of Physics open house and the first "Physics on the Road" conference.
The event began on February 22, with Colorado's 12th annual Little Shop of Physics open house. The Little Shop of Physics was started in 1992 by Brian Jones, who hits the road once a week or so with a troupe of undergraduate students and takes hands-on physics experiments to local communities, neighboring states, and even foreign countries.
"We don't do a show," Jones said. "We want to give folks a sense that science is something they can do."
Once a year, the program also hosts an open house. The first year, around 200 people came; this year, more than 5,000 students, children and parents strolled through two ballrooms and looked at 150 physics displays that had been set up by Jones and 20 CSU science majors.
The 2003 Physics on the Road conference was the first real chance for Jones to interact with others who have similar programs.
"This is something we've talked about doing for three years," said Fredrick Stein, director of the APS Education and Outreach office. "But everyone was so busy with other things that we didn't get the chance. This year, finally, we had the time to do it. It went wonderfully."
"The conference provided a chance to build a network of people interested in taking physics into the community," said David Harris, APS media liaison. "Previously, most of these people were working in isolation with few resources and little moral support from their universities or departments."
"It was nice to be able to talk shop with people," Jones said. Although he does have the support of CSU, he often works alone. "I came away with a lot of great ideas. It really invigorated me."
"There were panels, problem-solving sessions, posters, networking, everything a conference should have," said Stein.
The sessions were devoted to demonstrating the many different approaches to traveling physics experiments using interactive exhibits and mobile demonstration shows. Issues covered ranged from the mundane (what type of boxes to use) and practical (how to best get exhibits from point A to point B), to the more philosophical question of why the participants do mobile physics shows. There was a sharing session where participants did their favorite demonstration, and a keynote address by Stanford's Doug Osheroff, who discussed how his early experience with a traveling physics show was a defining moment in his career.
"Everyone wants to do it again next year," said Harris. "APS has set up an e-mail listserver to allow participants to keep in contact over e-mail, and they're very excited about being able to continue to talk to one another about their programs
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