Spring 2003



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Physics Educational Assistance, Resources, and Learning Strategies

What is It?

Purdue University’s Physics Educational Assistance, Resources, and Learning Strategies offer a wide menu of options to schools, including FunFest (on campus during SpringFest), Traveling FunFest Demonstrations (Physics on the Road), Focus on Science (week-long visits to schools so all science classes experience hands-on activities from all the sciences, not just physics), Traveling Science Exhibits, PowerPoint Presentations and tours describing Purdue Rare Isotope Measurement Lab, Individual Classroom Visits, Professional Development, Teacher Consultation, and Grant Writing Assistance. In addition, during December, 2002, we learned that our proposal to become a Quarknet Center was accepted. The first teacher-as-researcher training will occur during Summer, 2003.

Who is it For?

Purdue University’s Physics Educational Assistance, Resources, and Learning Strategies offers science enrichment activities for school groups at all levels. We also work with any organization who might benefit from what we have to offer.

History of Physics Outreach at Purdue University

In 1987, three department professors, Van Neie, Ephraim Fischbach and Marty Becker, decided that the Purdue University Physics department should present the entertaining side of physics to the community.

The first Physics FunFest was planned for the fall semester of 1988. The first FunFest would be held in one of the department’s 285-seat lecture rooms on a Saturday morning. One show was planned for the day and it would be a one-hour program. The list of demonstrations to be used would be off-the-shelf demonstrations that are traditionally entertaining. They included electrostatics, vacuum demos, liquid nitrogen, the bed-of-nails, and others. Advertising for the first show consisted of fliers which were distributed to local schools and posted at local department stores and grocery stores. There was also an announcement on two local radio stations.

In order to help with the smooth transition from demonstration to demonstration, the professors decided that it would be wise to include the lecture room manager, Roger Boyce. Roger was to also have an active roll as a presenter. The day of the first FunFest arrived—Saturday, November 12, 1988. The program was scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. The four presenters arrived at 8:30 to start setting up demonstrations. People started arriving at 9:30 and by 10:00 every seat was occupied. People were standing in every available space at the back of the room. The hallway was full and people were even standing outside of the building. The presenters made a quick decision to do a second show and word was passed along to the people who were standing outside the lecture room. The second show would start at 11:45. However, that show was standing room only as well!

The FunFest was a huge success. A photographer from a local newspaper covered the event. The article and photographs that appeared in the paper were well done. The presenters held a meeting following the FunFest to discuss future FunFests. They had no doubt that they were onto something that could be really BIG. And, since the campus FunFest was so successful, a traveling FunFest should be equally successful. The idea of hiring a full-time outreach coordinator was born.

The second FunFest went into the planning stage the following August. This time it was planned for two shows. There was also a plan to distribute free tickets. Tickets were printed in two colors, each color designating which show would be attended. A movie was offered in the adjoining lecture room while the FunFest was going on. The Student Physics Society (SPS) participated with taking tickets and running the activity in the second lecture room. Calls were received from schools desirous of bringing a busload of kids to FunFest, and these schools were sent a quantity of tickets. Advertising was still done by fliers to local schools, posting at local businesses, and announcements on two radio stations. The problem of having more people show up than could be accommodated remained with the second show. The demonstrations consisted of more off-the-shelf apparatus. During the follow-up meeting, the presenters decided that they would eliminate issuing free tickets, as the tickets were somewhat effective, but other problems were created due to fairness of distribution, and the process was unnecessarily complicated. The third FunFest would be advertised and presented as three, first-come, first-served shows.

As the full-time outreach coordinator, Chris Roddy, from North Carolina State University, started to develop what would become Physics on the Road, the traveling physics FunFest. Chris began scheduling visits to schools. He acquired apparatus dedicated to outreach and he began looking for funding to purchase a dedicated van and equuipment that would make the outreach project independent from lecture room demos. Chris was successful in obtaining a $25,000 grant from the Alumni Foundation. This sum was enough to make the van purchase and to buy the dedicated equipment. In order to meet the expenses of Physics on the Road, schools were requested to make a $200 donation for a visit. The annual FunFest continued until the year 2000. A decision was made for the FunFest to be held in a larger auditorium. The fourth FunFest was held in an 1100 seat auditorium. One show was given and was attended by over 800 people. This became the forum for the shows over the next several years, but the shortcoming was that the demonstrations had to be very large so they could be seen. To assist, cameras were also used, to project the demos onto a 12’ x 12’ screen.

Following the 1998 show, the decision was made to return the shows to the physics building and to use four large rooms which would allow the presentors to have several shows going simultaneously. Each room would be set up to run several demonstrations through three consecutive 20-minute shows. The audience would move from room to room during the ten minute intermission between shows. During the years, the demand for Physics on the Road grew to an annual attendance of over 20,000 people, comprised of over 70 visits and nearly 200 shows. The outreach van has traveled to many parts of the country as a vital part of Physics on the Road workshops conducted at AAPT meetings. In March, 2002 representatives from Columbia University traveled to Indiana to observe a school visit for the purpose of taking a science show to Africa. In August, representatives from three universities in South Korea traveled to Purdue University to take notes and to take pictures of the demonstrations for the purpose of starting an outreach program that would cover the entire country.

Mobile Physics Programming Today

Purdue University’s Physics Outreach Program, Physics Educational Assistance, Resources, and Learning Strategies, has continued to grow and offers a wide menu of options to schools, including FunFest (on campus during the university’s SpringFest), Traveling FunFest demonstrations (Physics on the Road), traveling science exhibits in conjunction and at the same time with Physics on the Road, whereby students explore hands-on displays much like in a children’s museum. Focus on Science (week-long visits to schools so all elementary or middle school classes experience hands-on activities from all the sciences, not just physics, for a 45-60 minute period devoted to one topic, PowerPoint presentations and tours describing the Purdue Rare Isotope Measurement Lab (PRIME Lab), individual classroom visits, professional development, teacher consultation, grant writing assistance, and most recently, designation as a Quarknet Center to train teachers in the research process and to “allow classrooms to peek over the shoulder’s of today’s experimenters.”

Outreach is the “Extension Office” of Education

When you hear the term Extension Office, you often equate this term with agriculture and 4-H. You also may think about the extension agent going out to the field with the farmer to solve a problem with, say, boll weevils in the peanut patch. The extension agent listens to the problem or needs of the farmer and brings workable solutions. It was the extension agent who made such a huge difference in agriculture during the first part of the century. So it is with outreach coordinators. One of our functions is to hear the needs of the teacher in the classroom and to bring ideas for possible solutions. This may be a teaching strategy, a way to acquire a piece of needed equipment, or to provide a demo, help to locate and/or to write a grant.


When Van Neie, Epharaim Fischbach, and Marty Becker decided to make physics come alive and to have fun, they wanted to share a goal of helping their own children appreciate what it is they loved. Their passion has evolved through the years to a growing and vital outreach program. Purdue University Department of Physics provides PEARLS of science wisdom to classrooms throughout Indiana.

For further information, contact:

Julie Conlon
Department of Physics
Room 235, Physics Building
525 Northwestern Avenue
Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN 47907-2036
(765) 494-0740 (voice)
(765) 496-2298 (fax)