UCSB sponsors a circus... but it doesn't involve tight-rope walkers, clowns, or elephants—instead it focuses on Physics! The UCSB Physics department runs the Physics Circus, traveling to local K-12 schools to provide exciting and educational demonstrations. The circus is primarily run by UCSB graduate students, although many undergraduate students and some faculty members also participate. They hope to show students that physics can be fun—and try to provide demos that can help clear up common misconceptions.
Michael Champion, a fourth year physics graduate student, talked with us about some of his experiences with the circus. Champion has been volunteering with the circus since he first arrived at UCSB and also has served as the coordinator. In his opinion, one of the most popular demonstrations they do is with liquid nitrogen, allowing the kids to see assorted items (flowers, banana, racquetballs) freeze. The grand finale is freezing marshmallows for each of the kids. When we asked Champion about what he enjoys most about volunteering with the circus, he said, "I love to be part of the learning process, and I think that it is extremely important to start early while kids are still fascinated by the world around them. I really enjoy being part of that process."
The current Physics Circus coordinator is Karina Roitman, a third year physics graduate student. When we asked Roitman what she enjoyed most about the circus she said, "I love teaching, so that's definitely a big reason why I like it. But I also enjoy the sometimes hilarious responses we get from the kids. And of course, it's awesome to see kids get so excited about physics that they run to find their friends to show them what they just learned."
Roitman made a point to let us know that you don't have to be a physics student to take part in the circus, but you do need to be willing to learn. The volunteers make a point to explain the physics behind the demonstrations and not just go for the "wow factor." If you're interested in volunteering, you can contact Roitman at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out their website for more information.