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Melons Will Fly at Physics Open House

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May 10, 2005

The United Nations has declared 2005 the World Year of Physics to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s “Miracle Year.” It was in 1905 that the physicist published a series of scientific papers that revolutionized the world’s view of space, time and the atom.

To share the wonders of physics, Northwestern’s department of physics and astronomy will host an open house featuring a talk by a Nobel Laureate and a variety of engaging demonstrations -- including a cantaloupe-hurling trebuchet -- from 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday, May 15. The event, which is free and open to the public of all ages, will be held at the Technological Institute, 2145 Sheridan Road, Evanston campus.

Anthony J. Leggett, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics, will discuss “What Can We Do with a Quantum Liquid?” at 4 p.m. in Tech’s Ryan Auditorium. Leggett is John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Demonstrations of physical phenomena will include liquid nitrogen ice cream, lasers, Brownian motion, solar observing and a trebuchet demonstration. A trebuchet is a highly efficient gravity driven catapult that demonstrates Newtonian physics. In the Middle Ages, trebuchets were used to knock down the walls of cities and destroy castles. Though of smaller scale, the open house’s 21-foot tall trebuchet can -- and will -- fling cantaloupes 300 feet through the air.

Arthur Schmidt, college lecturer and one of the department’s best showmen, will present a “Physics Magic Show” in which he will levitate a beach ball, pull a tablecloth out from under a table setting, launch a ping-pong ball with a canon that uses a vacuum and demonstrate a spinning bicycle wheel that defies gravity.

A paper airplane competition with prizes will conclude the day. Throughout the afternoon visitors will have ample opportunity to talk with members of the department about their research, life in physics or the demonstrations.

The open house is sponsored by the department of physics and astronomy and the Alumnae of Northwestern. For more information, call (847) 491-3644 or visit http://www.physicsyear.northwestern.edu.