"National" Physics Day
at the University of Virginia
(434) 924-3781
Charlottesville has a few truly incredible things to offer its residents - events worth the drive for non-residents, even. The Gordon Avenue Book Sale is one of them. "National" Physics Day at U.Va. has to be another. I put "National" in quotes because there isn't really a national physics day - these educators are simply hoping to start a trend. It is with this kind of humor that one enjoys this annual, free event, just presented for the sixth year.

We have attended for the past four years and have never been disappointed. Led by Dr. Stephen Thornton and his three colleagues, Dr. Robert Watkins, John Malone, and Mike Timmins, these gentlemen know how to engage an audience and make science fun. The presentations are often outrageous and cause gales of laughter from an age-diverse crowd that includes toddlers, teens, college kids, and grandparents. Their real skill comes in the ability to teach something to everyone. Formulas, vocabulary, and scientific concepts are all there for the taking and enjoyment.

Over the years, demonstrations have included balloons, bubbles, liquid nitrogen, energy, airflow, goo making, electricity, vacuums, water, light, and so on. The year they focused on liquid nitrogen, they combined milk, vanilla, sugar, and liquid nitrogen into a BIG bowl and made enough ice cream for the entire audience. It was delicious!

When I ask my kids what they like best about the show, they instantly agree it is the audience participation. Once again, they're right. The many opportunities for volunteers to help with the science allow for a real sense of involvement. Dr. Thornton begins the program in such a way that it feels non-threatening to guess an answer or volunteer to lift a bowling ball via ropes and pulleys.

The lecture hall (Room 203) in the Physics building on the grounds of the University is well equipped for a large audience. There are TV screens available for close-up viewing of the experiments and demonstrations. It still helps to get there early for a front row seat. This year, for the first time, they had two showings to accommodate the ever-increasing size of the audience.

This has to be one of Charlottesville's best-kept secrets. In a recent interview with Dr. Thornton, I learned they are working hard to better advertise the event. This is good because, for me, the hardest part of attending this program is finding out when it is scheduled. It is always in April - usually the third week in April. There is a mailing list, but they have been inconsistent with sending announcements. I have found the best thing is to call the Physics Department in early April and ask when the program is scheduled - or to be put on the mailing list.

DIRECTIONS: Coming into Charlottesville from Interstate 64 (East or West), take Exit 118B. Off the ramp, you will be on Route 29 North. Take the very first exit onto Route 29 North - Business. Off the ramp, take a right onto Route 29 Business (AKA Fontaine Ave.). At the second stoplight, take a left onto Maury Ave. Proceed straight through the 4-Way stop sign. Pass the football stadium on your right. Take the first right turn after the stadium. This road is unnamed but you will know you are on track when you see the Aquatic and Fitness Center on your left and Stadium on your right. Take a left onto Chemistry Drive. There is lots of free parking after 5:00 PM. Park anywhere and walk up Chemistry Drive (away from the stadium). Cross the road and take a right on the sidewalk. The Physics building is the next building you will see. Enter and go up one flight of steps and go to Room 203.

Mary Wilson...
Email: mary@trailz.org

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