Physics through a festive lens
ASPEN Stop by the Aspen Center for Physics on a Wednesday night this summer and youre likely to find a scientist of Evalyn Gates caliber explaining to a lot of people who dont even have drivers licenses how space can be used as a telescope.Handing around a large lens that distorts everything the viewer sees, Gates lets students look at one another and observe how the lens distorts objects.For the littlest children, thats fun enough.But she shows the older children images from the Hubble Telescope, which clearly have distortions similar to the distortions Gates lens makes.The children quickly realize that there must be a lens present; Gates argued that the lens is space itself the biggest telescope in the universe.Space is warped, and the light is bending around it, she explained.Or you might find ninth-grade student Nathan Klein and twelfth-grader Ellen Klein setting up shop under the Semi-Professional Scientists sign.On this particular evening, the two had a project that involved Coke and pop rocks, and they warned the eager pint-sized scientists milling about that this particular experiment is observation only.And you will probably find former teacher Mike Stranahan, who heads to the physics center every Wednesday hes in town, with a hands-on project. This week, the students built bubble blowers that are variations on the Platonic solids out of toy sticks. Stranahan opted to not give a lecture that explains the solids, rather, he gave the childrens shapes names like I dont know.It is a teaching tool, he said of the toys. But thats really not the point the point is to open up imagination and creativity.At one table, Connor Bray directed high school volunteers Michael Ufkes and Simon Dolginow to build a solid so big it wont even fit into the bucket of bubbles.My job is to make sure this [side] is exactly the same as that one, Bray explained solemnly.Fully absorbed in the project, he called to Stranahan for a quality control check, cautioning his little brother Tylor not to use the wrong size sticks, and giving the solid, which is bigger than him, a drop test, to examine its sturdiness.But when Kevin Ward, executive director for the Aspen Science Center, wandered over with dry ice, Bray became equally engaged with putting the ice into the drainage ditch and watching the smoke emerge.Meanwhile, Tylor and a handful of new friends created their own renegade experiment. They began testing how fast leaves travel down the drainage ditch.Stranahan looked around and smiled.Look at all the people doing all the things and nobodys doing anything wrong, he observed.
Physics Center barbecues take place every Wednesday during the summer on the lawn of the Aspen Center for Physics, 200 W. Gillespie St., from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The free barbecues feature burgers, hot dogs, Ben & Jerrys ice cream, volleyball, geodesic domes and pyrotechnics followed by a talk aimed at 10-year-old scientists by an eminent firstname.lastname@example.org