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Physics Magic, Small Wonders

July 28, 2005 — As almost 1,300 physics teachers meet at the University of Utah, the public is invited to attend two events: a Demonstration Show meant to display the magic of physics and a Nobel Prize winner’s lecture on microscopic to atom-sized “nanoscience.”

The free public events are sponsored by the University of Utah’s Department of Physics and the American Association of Physics Teachers, which is holding its Aug. 6-10 summer meeting on campus. The Demonstration Show and lecture are part of the physics community’s ongoing recognition of 2005 as the World Year of Physics, which is being celebrated 100 years after Albert Einstein’s most significant discoveries.

  • The Demonstration Show will be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday Aug. 8 in Kingsbury Hall on Presidents Circle.
  • Horst Stormer, who shared the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physics, will deliver a lecture on “Small Wonders: The World of Nanoscience” at 4 p.m. Tuesday Aug. 9 in Kingsbury Hall.

During the Demonstration Show, Zigmund “Ziggy” Peacock, University of Utah’s physics demonstrator, will be joined by colleagues from Rutgers, Brigham Young, Idaho State, Brown, Oregon State and other universities in providing loud and colorful demonstrations of physics principles.

Details are still being worked out, but “we will certainly shatter some glass with sound, and smash a concrete block on a person sandwiched between two ‘beds of nails,'” Peacock says. “We will try to show some of the magic that is physics.”

Peacock also plans to use an air gun to shoot a 10-inch wooden bullet at a stuffed toy cougar – the mascot of rival Brigham Young University. Meanwhile, Wayne Peterson, BYU’s physics demonstration coordinator, says he may drop a University of Utah football helmet and fire a similar bullet at it to demonstrate how gravity works on both the helmet and the bullet.

Stormer, who works at Columbia University in New York and Lucent Technologies’ Bell Labs in New Jersey, will speak on nanoscience and nanotechnology. Nano means one-billionth. Nanoscience and nanotechnology encompass everything from a few atoms in size up to just about what can be seen through a microscope.

“Atoms represent the most gigantic LEGO set of the universe – everything is made from them – and the nanoscale is the scale where the game becomes interesting for the first time,” says a summary of Stormer’s lecture on the physics teachers’ website. “This lecture will focus on the nanoscale, its wondrous meeting of physics, chemistry, biology and engineering, and its potential to shape our technological future.”

Stormer shared the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physics with Daniel Tsui and Robert Laughlin for the discovery of the fractional quantum Hall effect, or what has been described as how electrons exposed to ultracold temperatures and strong magnetic fields can behave more like a fluid than like particles.

Most other events during the summer meeting are open only to registered participants, which include high school, college and university physics teachers from around the world. However, on Monday Aug. 8 and Tuesday Aug. 9, local educators and the public may visit the physics education exhibit hall that will be set up in the university’s Olpin Union Building Ballroom. Such visitors first must pick up a pass at the meeting registration desk in Olpin Union’s Parlor A.

News media representatives seeking more information on the American Association of Physics Teachers summer meeting may see the group’s website at or contact Carol Heimpel, AAPT director of meetings, starting Aug. 6 at her temporary office in Parlor C of the Olpin Union Building, phone (801) 587-9773. Before the meeting, Heimpel may be reached at (301) 209-3340.