Perspective Online

Science, Excitement, and an Electric Pickle: Physics Demo Night 2015

by Bonnie Butcher and Isaiah Hinsley

Physics Demo Night has always been an evening of excitement at the University of West Georgia. This night, full of thrills that almost seem like magic tricks, brings people of all ages from UWG and the community to witness and participate in some out-of-this-world demonstrations. This year’s event featured high voltage electricity, lightning, electrostatics, tornadoes, hurricanes, smoke rings, ignited methane bubbles, a gas bottle rocket, a light bulb bicycle generator, the “Electric Pickle,” and a million volt zap cane.

Science, Excitement, and an Electric Pickle: Physics Demo Night 2015As unbelievable as these demonstrations may be, there is a science behind it all. The “Electric Pickle” has 120 powerful AC volts that run through it. The first thing to occur is the pickle begins to sizzle and crack as it establishes a polarity. Next, you can see the pickle light up. Essentially, the electrons of the sodium atoms are excited to higher orbital levels. The yellow that is present is the same as a sodium light you would see in a street lamp.

In the methane bubble demonstration, methane is mixed with soap to create bubbles. The bubbles begin to float upward, due to the fact that methane is lighter than air. Once they are in the air, they can be ignited. The bubble burns up quickly with a luminous flame.

In the tradition of Physics Demo Night, the “Bed of Nails” was there as well. This wooden platform is covered in 720 nails, looking like it could cause some serious harm. Dr. Ben De Mayo, the event’s host and professor emeritus of physics, explained, “Since we are spreading out the force, which is your weight, over a large area, the pressure is dropped.” This is similar to the way that we use water skis or snowshoes, he said.

The gas bottle rocket experiment was done with a five-gallon water bottle filled with flammable gas. The professors created a rocket out of it, showing how linear momentum conservation is responsible for rocket propulsion.

The visual aspects of these demonstrations provide excitement for all ages, enticing minds and giving the crowd a sense of wonderment. Working with Dr. De Mayo, student Hannah Watkins knows how his creative inspirations impact Demo Night.

“Dr. De Mayo enjoys joking around and having as much fun as possible, which has an influence over the demos he chooses,” she said.

Science, Excitement, and an Electric Pickle: Physics Demo Night 2015Physics Demo Night is made possible by a grant awarded to Dr. De Mayo by the Georgia Space Grant Consortium-NASA , which he has received 22 years in a row. Since 1994, UWG has received a total of over $436,000 under this program. The funding allows the College of Science and Mathematics to continue its research on nano-diamonds and high temperature superconductivity with undergraduate research assistants.

“The grant benefits our students by giving them valuable hands-on research experience, as well as by paying them for their work,” described Dr. De Mayo. “It also allows for physics and astronomy lectures and demonstrations to be presented for local school children and the community.”

Thanks to the grant, other activities scheduled for this semester include the Frozen Halloweenie on October 30; Galaxies, Black Holes, Quasars, and other Cosmic Objects on November 20; and America’s Space Program – Past and Future on December 11. All events will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Boyd Hall’s Crider Lecture Hall.


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Posted: October 8, 2015

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