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The Battalion

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A&M’s Physics and Engineering festival excites public about science

Petroleum+engineering+junior%26%23160%3BShahroz+Khan+and+his+partner+light+methane+bubbles+on+fire%2C+among+200+total+demos+at+Saturdays+physics+festival.
Photo by Photo by Chris Martin

Petroleum engineering junior Shahroz Khan and his partner light methane bubbles on fire, among 200 total demos at Saturday’s physics festival.

“We do something some would call a little bit crazy — we light our hands on fire,” said petroleum engineering junior Shahroz Khan as he performed a demonstration at A&M’s 15th annual Physics and Engineering Festival.

On Saturday, crowds gathered at the Mitchell Institute to view more than 200 physics demonstrations put on by faculty, students and staff from the colleges of science and engineering. The festival had something for all ages, including bubble shows, talks by Nobel Laureate David Lee and Astronaut Bonnie Dunbar, five-barrel depth charge, Doppler effect experiments, segway demos, optical illusions and more.

Tatiana Erukhimova, physics and astronomy professor and the event organizer, said Saturday’s festival was a huge success and appreciated the great turnout from the public, with people traveling from around the country.

“It has been fantastic,” Erukhimova said. “We had really big crowds here today and people really appreciated the festival. I think everyone had a great time and people have a lot of fun playing with the hands-on demonstrations. People come from many other states every year because they like our festival.”

About every 15 minutes, the public covered their ears when watching the vacuum cannon. Bolstered with a compressed air tank that fed into a chamber connected to a burst disk made of sheets of aluminum foil, the air in the barrel would exit the compressed air tank and work like a gun, but instead shoots a ping pong ball at a wooden slab.

“Once the pressure gets big enough, it shoots the air into our barrel which contains a ping pong ball and we have a vacuum hooked up to that which eliminates the air resistance inside the barrel allowing it to get a higher exit velocity,” said physics freshman Benjamin Garcia.

Physics sophomore Dylan Mcbee said they got supersonic speeds and measured the speed by using a chronograph — a device that uses light to measure distance. The ping pong ball travels past one of the sensors and then the next, and it can calculate the speed by the time difference.

“We typical got speeds ranging around supersonic speeds,” Mcbee said. “We have got up to 1,400 feet per second previously; today we have only gotten up to 1,191 feet per second. I like how people of all ages and backgrounds — science major or not — everybody enjoys loud booms and point pong balls that explode so it’s a good demo for anybody.”

Another physics demo was the methane soap bubbles experiment. Khan said they mixed a chemical compound of dawn soap, glycerin and water, put the mixture inside a tin canister with water, then used methane gas to create flammable bubbles.

“What we are doing is pumping in methane to cause the bubbles to rise, but the methane gas is causing it to rise because methane is lighter than air,” Khan said. “We get the bubbles and put them on our hands and light the [methane] bubbles on fire … We do that by putting a coat of water on our hands right before — creating a fire-retardant glove.”

Erukhimova said her highlight of the festival was the five-barrel depth charge, but said she truly enjoys all the demos because of the all the effort students put in design and build the demos.

“Everyone comes together on the day of the festival — people work really hard to make this festival a success, all people faculty students staff — everyone. It’s a huge team who works on the festival and made it a great success and people really appreciate it.”

Bernie Flores, engineering freshman who helped in the vacuum cannon, said he enjoys showing the public the physics demonstrations.

“I like explaining the whole project to the kids and everyone and showing them what the ping pong looks like afterwards and they get really excited about it — just the joy in people’s faces seeing it happen.”

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