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The Sound of Physics


The YM Valladolid Section released ‘The Sound of Physics’ on September 30th, 2016 for an audience of 300 people. Performed as the main event of the European Researchers Night 2016 at the Science Museum of Valladolid, its aim was the explanation of mechanical waves, particularly sound, and the characteristics of music. The spectacle was performed once more on November 26th, 2016 at the theater of Renedo de Esgueva (Valladolid) for 200 music students. Children and adults could enjoy and learn what a wave is, its mechanisms of propagation, and its physical properties – wavelength, frequency, amplitude, linear superposition… – together with associated physical phenomena, such as Doppler effect. How do different types of musical instruments produce sound? How can the characteristics of the latter be modified? These are only some of the questions that were answered during this activity. The explanations were accompanied by illustrative experiments, as well as short, but well-known, pieces of music, played by YM Valladolid members.

The first part of the show was mainly devoted to the properties of mechanical waves. To picture them, a variety of resources were used, such as ropes, animations and videos. The public could take part in a simulation of propagation of the sound inside different media, where they were the atoms, and their arms represented the interatomic forces. The audience played with a ball with a buzzer inside, perceiving the Doppler effect. They could also hear a sound produced by a whistle of the London Metropolitan Police, formed as the sum of two tones of frequencies too high for the human ear, and thus living the difference between frequency -physical quantity- and tone -subjective perception. The Rubens tube helped with the introduction of the concepts of stationary wave and resonance.

The second part dealt with the physics of the musical instruments. For percussion, wind, string, electronic and electromechanical instruments the following topics were covered: how the sound is generated, how its qualities can be controlled, and why these qualities are modified in that way. The role of resonance chambers was clarified, using as an example the ‘blasters’ sound production in the Star Wars saga by using a metallic spring and a plastic cup (as it was originally done). The public could agitate balloons with an hexagonal nut inside to understand the sound produced by a membrane instrument, and a Chladni plate helped to visualize it. The instruments used and explained included: glass bottles, ocarina, recorder, transverse flute, ukulele, solid metallic bars, violin, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, theremin and Tesla coil. Timbre was introduced by recording in situ the sound emitted by some of them and by explaining the differences among their waveforms and spectra. The show was enlivened by playing short well-known pieces, like ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, ‘Concerning Hobbits’, ‘Star Wars Cantina’ and ‘We Will Rock You’, counting the latter with the participation of the audience.

After its great acceptance, further repetitions of the show are expected soon.

The Power of Physics – Star Wars Edition

img-20160513-wa0016We have taken advantage of the recent release of the new ‘Star Wars’ trilogy to make our previous show “Superpoderes… ¿o física?” more interactive and contemporary. This activity has been carried out -so far- at the Liceo Castilla Maristas on May 13th, 2016, where 350 students of E.S.O. and Bachillerato enjoyed it. It has had a very good feedback from both teachers and students. The length of the spectacle was one hour and a half. The experiments were divided into three different sections. All of them were introduced by different scenes, starring well-known Star Wars characters. A script for this play was created and elaborated.

The first part corresponds to the light (Jedi) side of the Force and the experiments were the following:

Vapor Display: In order to highlight the importance of the light-matter interaction, Leia uses a vapor screen to show the maps for the next mission, and she explains how it works.
Levitation: Rey travels back in time to be trained by Yoda, who is levitating using a well-known trick.
Lenz Tube: Yoda asks Rey to explain why two balls (non-magnetic and magnetic) fall with different accelerations.
Refractive index and invisibility: Yoda asks Rey to look for a ‘cristal’ for her lightsaber. Rey discovers a lot of them hidden in water where they cannot be seen, because these balls have the same refractive index as water.
As the last task of the training, Rey must walk over cristal carrying Yoda on her back, recreating somehow the 5th film scene with Luke and Yoda.

The second part is about the dark (Sith) side of the Force:
Vortex: Kylo asks Vader to train him and Vader challenges Kylo to extinguish three candles with the Force. Initially, it seems possible, but finally Vader finds a stormtrooper who is actually doing it with an air vortex and explains it.
Van der Graff: Although Kylo cannot pass the challenge, he finally persuades Vader to teach him. The first device he exhibits is a Van der Graff generator, with which they perform several experiments that insist on the idea of voltage.
Tesla coil: Vader shows Kylo another way to create a high voltage, not by accumulating charges but by electromagnetic induction.
Leidenfrost: Vader explains Kylo how he can burn his hands with no harm to avoid History to be repeated. Moreover, the audience can experience it.

In the last part of the show, the two sides of the Force face each other and the public takes part in the duel:
Luminiscence and fluorescent tubes: Rey and Kylo pretend a combat with two types of lightsaber: fluorescent tubes (blue and red), powered by hidden plasma balls, and two fluorescent-painted sticks. Both are explained by a stormtrooper in a soliloquy while Rey and Kylo pose with the fluorescent tubes on.
Mechanics games: They will insist on the concept of force and center of mass and the public is encouraged to participate.

The show finishes with a final speech against pseudoscience and supporting critical thinking.

A Pirates’ World (Un mundo de piratas)

Valladolid_PiratasThe main aim of A pirates’ world was to show physics to kids in a way they can enjoy.

This activity has been carried out at five different schools in Valladolid city and its surroundings:
– CEIP Ana de Austria (Cigales, Valladolid) on January 26th, 2016
– Colegio La Milagrosa y Santa Florentina (Valladolid) on January 26th, 2016
– CEIP Francisco Pino (Valladolid) on February 12th, 2016
– Colegio La Inmaculada M.S.J.O (Valladolid) on February 19th, 2016
– Colegio Virgen Niña (Valladolid) on April 22nd, 2016

The activity consisted of two different workshops of around 25 minutes long, which are carried out at the same time, and both set in a pirate’s ambience. Every group of kids was in the activity for around 50 minutes. We received 6 different groups at each school. The total audience of this activity was around 750 kids in the mentioned five elementary schools. The total length of this activity is around 2 hours.

The following concepts were dealt:

  • Parabolic motion. With a homemade cannon that allows three possible initial angles, it was shown that the maximum horizontal distance is reached for an angle of 45º.
  • Compass. The concept of magnetic field was introduced in an easy way, and the interaction with magnets was shown.
  • Optics. A homemade telescope was explained to the kids.
  • Density. This concept was explained through two different experiments. A ‘liquid tower’ was built using liquids with different densities (and colors): soap, water, oil, and alcohol. This tower was given as a present for each class. In the second experiment, ships made of play-doh helped to explain how ships can float. A solid sphere and a boat- shaped object were compared, even including more weight in the second.
  • Luminescence. It was explained that some natural materials could absorb light of some ’colour’ and emit light of a different ‘colour’.
  • Introduction to electricity phenomena occurring in boats (e.g., St. Elmo’s Fire) using a Van der Graaf generator.
  • Other experiments carried out were: invisibility under water (refractive index), fire and Leidenfrost effect; air vortex; among others.

The feedback given by the students and teachers was really good and this activity will continue to be offered to schools in the region and hopefully will be done other times this year.

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Scary Physics

ScaryValladolid__01As Halloween is becoming a feast day with more followers in Spain and other European countries, “Physics League” has developed an educative theater play to show the ‘more terrific’ side of Physics in an environment of well-known horror films. The structure of this play and all the experiments were the following:

  • A scary introduction. The Joker and Samara (the girl of The Ring), presenters, introduced five Physics students who got lost during a strong storm and discovered an abandoned house. Joker and Samara explained all the experiments performed after each scene is finished.
  • Ouija games. The kids were welcomed by the Cheshire cat (performed with luminescent and phosphorescent paintings) who appeared other times during the play. The five kids discovered an Ouija game and they decided to play. The pointer moved alone through a big board (using magnets). Then, a ghost apparition occurred (“Pepper’s ghost” effect with a projector and a certain cloth) and Samara suddenly appeared killing one student.
  • Saw room. The four remaining kids entered into the clown’s room of Saw movies. This character played with them using torture instruments but knowing that the students will be safe: bed of nails and walking on broken glass. The clown started to play with her fire tornado and she wanted to burn the hands of a student (without damage by Leidenfrost effect) until other student disturbed this game who was finally murdered.
  • Witch room. Two witches were preparing the eternal youth elixir with liquids and eyes (showing different densities) and with the help of a talking mirror (acetate sheet illuminated from behind or in front). The students needed to heal some injuries and asked for help to the witch who decided to kill one student in order to take her soul (dry ice was added to the elixir).
  • Laboratory. An “electrical” laboratory was in the show: Doctor Frankenstein, Igor, Joker and Samara played with a faraday cage (radio in an aluminum casing), “creating electricity” with fluorescents and plasma balls, and a Van der Graaff generator. The two remaining students discovered the lab where the Frankenstein’s monster was created using a Tesla coil. The monster killed one student.
  • Last murder. The last student found a room with messages written with luminescent paintings. The Cheshire cat appeared and killed the last student.
  • Final. All the characters danced “Thriller” by Michael Jackson and gave sweets.

Audience: 300 viewers.

Comment: Other repetitions of this theater play are planned during 2016. We had a great success of public since more than 400 viewers (estimated by the Science Museum staff) waited for more than one hour in a long queue but could not enter in the Auditorium of the Science Museum of Valladolid due to security reasons.

Participants of the Young Minds Valladolid section: Luis Sánchez-Tejerina, Beatriz González, Verónica González, David Mateos, Verónica Villa, Mónica Vara, Laura Ares, Alejandro Gloriani, Diego González. Furthermore, new members of “Physics League” have been involved in this activity. A total of 20 participants coordinated this activity.

Projects: This activity is supported by EPSYM2015H10 project. We have taken advantage of two experiments previously shown in “Game of Physics” project (EPSYM2015G25) and other three shown in “¿Superpoderes…o física?” project (EPSYM2015G25). We had also obtained funding from OSA and APS associations to perform this educative theater play.


Light from other worlds

IYL_Valladolid__01Within the framework of “European Researchers Night 2015” organized by the Science Museum of Valladolid, Physics League has organized a big-workshop related to light because of the IYL2015. Taking advantage of many popular films, the basics of the physical principles can be shown in an attractive and stunning way.

Seven workshops were carried out in parallel in a big space in the Science Museum of Valladolid. The success of the activity was recognized by its directress with more than 500 participants during the event.

  • Avatar: Different kinds of luminescence have been explained using the Pandora’s universe: Bioluminescence (natural algae), Chemiluminescence (bracelets) and fluorescence (different paints,minerals).
  • Star wars: The holograms are reproduced by a ‘real’ hologram which can be seen with a laser and an ‘optical illusion’ performed by an acetate pyramid. A ‘fight’ between the Jedi (red laser) and Sith (blue laser) sides is performed with tinted fluorescents and plasma balls. How to lead the light is addressed solving a ‘laser khet’ puzzle with only 3 available mirrors.
  • Entrapment: a portable laser maze has been built with an Arduino, lasers, and photo-detectors. The light-matter interaction was explained in the entrance.
  • Spy kids: some ways to send information are explained. For instance, a spectra sound was built to transmit music using a laser. Polarization of light is shown using 3D-glasses.
  • Up: what happens when solar radiation crosses the top of the atmosphere? The radiative effect of clouds and aerosols is shown by a laser, a glass of water, and sugar. Different kinds of aerosols are introduced and a sandstorm is performed in a big box. The role of aerosols as cloud condensation nuclei is proved by the formation of clouds in a bottle with hairspray and warm water.
  • Inside Out (workshop I): with 5 atomic spectrum lamps we can explain why we can see colours: Sodium
    (‘Joy’, yellow), Zinc (‘Sadness’, blue), Neon (‘Anger’, red), Thalium (‘Disgust’, green), Cesium (‘Fire’, purple). The different aspect of a rainbow inside each box helps to understand the colour absorption/emission. Diffraction is also addressed.
  • Inside Out (workshop II): how do our eyes work? With a laser kit the human eyes are visually explained. Some problems related to the vision are also detailed. White light is formed by Newton’s disc and decomposed using a prism. Different colour fires go in depth to colour absorption/emission.


Sleights of mind

SofM_Valladolid__02Within the framework of the “International Year of the Light” the Valladolid YM Section Physics League organized a talk about visual perception and sleights of mind. We invited to neuroscientist Dra. Susana Martinez- Conde, cofounder of the exciting new discipline of NeuroMagic and also member of the Magic Castle, Magic Circle, International Brotherhood of Magicians, and the Society of American Magicians.

Magic tricks work because humans have a hardwired process of attention and awareness that is hackable. By understanding how magicians hack our brains, we can better understand how the same cognitive tricks are at work in advertising strategy, business negotiations, and all varieties of interpersonal relations. When we understand how magic works in the mind of the spectator we will have unveiled the neural bases of consciousness itself. The idea was approach the neuroscience to students and general public in a fun and accessible way.

This talk appeared on the local news programme. A reporter filmed a small part of the talk and a small interview to a Physics League member.

Before the talk, we carried out some experiments in the hall of the College of Science, some tricks that are easily explained with physical laws, like:

  • Burning hands, a mixture of water, soap and hairspray allows us to burn our hands without damage due to the Leidenfrost effect.
  • Bending spoons: The superpower of bending metal by just touching it is demystified. A gallium spoon looks like a normal kitchen spoon but it melts at 28 ºC being easily bent in our hands.
  • Bed of nails: People felt like ‘fakirs’ over this ‘comfortable’ bed of nails. The attendees were invited to prove this and other experiments.

The power of physics

2015_Valla_Poter_01The Physics League, Valladolid YM Section, organized an outreach activity in several museums: the Science Science Museum of Valladolid, the Barcial de la Loma (Valladolid) and Íscar (Valladolid).  The aim of this activity is to demystify some of the most common beliefs of pseudo-science. We explain some ‘paranormal’ tricks or “superpowers” that are easily explained with physical laws.

The experiments carried out in this show are:

  • Levitation: We have constructed the same levitating system with steel rods used by ‘yoguis’ in India for levitating above the ground. We explain the equilibrium forces and center of mass.
  • Lenz tube: gravity is evaded when a magnet is dropped through a copper tube. The perturbation of the magnetic field induces currents, with the effect that the magnet falls slower.
  • Creating electricity: a fluorescent is turned on without electrical connections by a hidden plasma sphere.
    The way that electric field induces potential difference in the electrons into the fluorescent is explained.
  • Bending spoons: The superpower of bending metal by just touching it is demystified. A gallium spoon looks like a normal kitchen spoon but it melts at 28 ºC being easily bent in our hands.
  • Burning hands: a mixture of water, soap and hairspray allows us to burn our hands without damage due to the Leidenfrost effect.
  • Fire control: A Rubens’ tube shows the modulation of fire caused by “supernatural beings”, which is
    explained by acoustic standing waves in the tube.
  • Telekinesis: at a certain distance, a pile of glasses is destroyed and candles are put out. This superpower lies on an air vortex hidden in the backstage.
  • Duel of strength: the attendance is challenged to prove their strength against members of Physics League. Because of the knowledge of center of mass, our team always wins…
  • Walking through broken glass: We perform the trick of walking through broken glass. This trick is done in
    some societies claiming their powerful minds. We show that is just physics at work!
  • Bed of nails: the control of pain shown by fakirs lying over a bed of nails is also demystified. The relationship between pressure and the surface where it is applied is the basis to understand this “superpower”. We also break a concrete block over a Physics League member lying on this bed.
  • Ghost apparitions: the scariest moment of the show arrives when a mystery girl suddenly appears!
    Thankfully, Ghostbusters go to our rescue, and show us that the apparition is a “Pepper’s Ghost” effect.

The attendance is invited to prove all the experiments.

The Game of Physics – YM BAA 2015

2015_Valla_Game_12Within the framework of the “Open–door day” in the Science Faculty of University of Valladolid, three workshops of 30 minutes were carried out in parallel, with three physics areas: Thermodynamics, Optics and Electromagnetism. The main objective of this project was to approach physics knowledge to high school students in an attractive way taking advantage of the popular TV-series “Game of Thrones”.

In the Thermodynamics workshop (set in House Targaryen), the students discovered the following experiments/topics:

  • Two ping-pong balls get closer blowing in the space between them (Bernouilli effect).
  • Water boiling with a temperature below 100°C, due to low pressure.
  • A bottle filled with hot air is deformed by atmospheric pressure.
  • A cloud of alcohol is created by depressurization.
  • Dry ice is used to illustrate the different densities of CO2 and air.
  • The Leidenfrost effect is shown burning hands with a mixture of water, hairspray and soap.

In the Optics workshop (set in House Baratheon), the following concepts are explained:

  • Basic concepts of reflection, refraction, limit angle and optical fibre.
  • Invisibility by the same refraction index of Pyrex and sunflower oil.
  • A homemade vapour-display creates a screen of water vapour (laminar flow), the interaction light-matter is introduced.
  • A PC-monitor without its polarizing film cannot display any image. Linear polarizers are used to recover the image and to show the total extinction.
  • A set of four mirrors is adequately placed in order to banish a person (cloaking effect). A 3D image is achieved with an acetate pyramid and a video (holograms).

In the Electromagnetism workshop (located Beyond the Wall), the students discover the following phenomena:

  • The electromagnetic force is shown on aluminium strips and soap bubbles. This concept is also illustrated with a Van der Graaf generator.
  • A ferromagnetic fluid, iron filings, magnets and a magnetic field visualizer are used to show the magnetic field.
  • A magnetic levitation kit is used to illustrate the power of the magnetic force.
  • A plasma sphere and a Tesla coil with a light bulb become two ways to reproduce an aurora borealis.

The students filled a questionnaire (accessible by a QR code) and the results were very impressive: the activity got a score of 4.8 of 5, and most of them want to repeat an experience like this. 26 out 200 (13% of the participants) express their intention to study Physics after seeing our activity.

This show has been performed four times through June 2015 with a total audience close to 1,000 viewers. In May 2015, this activity was awarded the EPL Best YM Activity Award 2015 during the 4th EPS Young Minds Leadership Meeting.