Holiday season to kick off with ‘Physics with a Bang!’

This year’s Physics with a Bang! Holiday Lecture and Open House will once again provide students, families and teachers with an opportunity to see scientific demonstrations performed by University physics professors Heinrich Jaeger and Sidney Nagel. The annual program will be held Saturday, Dec. 4, in the University of Chicago’s Kersten Physics Teaching Center.

Each year, the popular program has attracted capacity crowds to see astonishing physics demonstrations, which have included crushing a 55–gallon steel drum as easily as a Coke can, accelerating a ping pong ball through a thick piece of cardboard at the speed of sound, and turning a cart on wheels into a rocket with the aid of a fire extinguisher.

The program’s Open House from noon to 4 p.m., organized by chemistry and physics professor Philippe Guyot–Sionnest, will allow guests to talk to scientists about their research and participate in hands–on activities such as making pickles glow, tasting ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, exploring optical properties of new materials, and previewing inventions such as Jaeger’s new robotic gripper device.

The Kersten Physics Teaching Center is at 5720 S. Ellis Ave. Doors will open 30 minutes prior to the 11 a.m. lecture and the 2 p.m. lecture. Admission is free, donations are welcome, and souvenirs and gifts will be available for purchase.

Registration for Physics with a Bang! is strongly suggested as space fills up quickly.

The James Franck Institute, the Department of Physics, the Materials Research Science & Engineering Center, and the Chicago Council on Science and Technology jointly sponsor Physics with a Bang!

Program organizers’ research interests

Heinrich Jaeger, the William J. Friedman and Alicia Townsend Friedman Professor in Physics, the James Franck Institute, and the College, specializes in the study of nanoscale physics. At this scale, metallic, superconducting and semiconducting structures display properties that differ fundamentally from behavior on larger scales. Another interest of Jaeger’s is the flow of granular materials, including dry sand and powders. These materials perplex physicists because they exhibit flow behavior far differently than ordinary solids, liquids and gases. Yet understanding the peculiar behavior of granular materials is vital for predicting and controlling them under a variety of industrial, civil engineering and scientific conditions. With colleagues in the arts, Jaeger launched the “S3 Project: the Sights and Sounds of Science” in 2003, to explore and encourage the relationship between science and art.

The work of Sidney Nagel, the Stein–Freiler Distinguished Service Professor in Physics, the James Franck Institute, the Enrico Fermi Institute and the College, has drawn attention to phenomena that scientists have regarded as outside the realm of physics, such as the science of droplets, granular materials and jamming. Another area of emphasis is his attempt to understand the properties of disordered materials. A perfect crystal of a chemical element or a compound is composed of an ordered arrangement of atoms, but in a disordered system—a glass, for example—the atoms are in disarray. Disordered systems also exist on a larger scale, as with the sand grains in a sand pile. Nagel’s honors include election to the National Academy of Sciences in 2003 and the American Physical Society’s Oliver Buckley Prize in 1999.

Philippe Guyot–Sionnest, Professor in Chemistry and Physics, the James Franck Institute and the College, is interested in the tremendous potential of chemistry and physics at the nanometer scale. This is where chemistry creates and physics predicts many of the properties that can be tuned. Some of these properties at the nanometer scale include quantum states, charging, spin, phonons and plasmons. Guyot–Sionnest’s research is driven by the manipulation of these physical properties and enabled by the chemical synthesis of colloidal nanoparticles.