On the afternoon of May 3, about 25 local Girl Scouts and some of their siblings visited the Department of Physics and Astronomy to attend presentations by faculty members Gabriela Canalizo, Laura Sales, and Nathaniel Gabor. Associate Professor Vivek Aji, whose daughter is a Girl Scout, arranged the visit. Professor Canalizo and Assistant Professor Sales began their presentation by screening a video called “The Violent Universe” that showed a number of real and simulated celestial phenomena, including merging galaxies, nebulae, exoplanets, moons, solar filaments, quasars, black holes, and galactic and planetary collisions.
All hands shot up during the Q&A that followed, with the invited K-6 guests bombarding Canalizo and Sales with questions such as: Has a supernova been seen? How many stars populate our galaxy? What colors are exoplanets? Did anyone go near a black hole? Why are planetary objects mainly spherical? Are there aliens out there? When is the sun going to blow up and kill everyone? Is Pluto still a planet? And how did our moon get here? Canalizo and Sales patiently answered all the questions and closed their presentation with a video, produced by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, illustrating how galaxies arrange themselves in the vast expanse of the universe.
Associate Professor Gabor then addressed the visitors and used hands-on exercises to explain a number of physics-related notions such as what a centripetal force is, why the centrifugal force ought to be forgotten, and how angular momentum is conserved. He also explained electricity to the young visitors and introduced them to concepts such as voltage and current. He ended his presentation with several demonstrations of toroidal vortices that he made with various vortex cannons.
“From demos on physical concepts to a glimpse at what is at the frontier of cutting-edge research, we sought to provide a window into both the wonderful world of science and the people who make it happen,” Aji said. “My hope is that we left a lasting impression about the excitement of discovery that it will inform their decisions about their own future.”