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Virginia Tech Physics Outreach Wiki

Justin W. and Justin B. presenting using liquid nitrogen during an explanation of some modern physics demos

Welcome to the Virginia Tech Physics Department Outreach Wiki. This wiki has a list of all of the demonstrations that Outreach uses with explanaintions of how to present them, the physics behind the demo and more. The Demos are separated into four categories: Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Electromagnetism, and Light and Waves. The following links will take you to each section, and each section breifly describes what subject matter is covered. The title to each section is a link that will take you to an expanded list of demonstrations.


Mechanics is the branch of physics that deals with the motion of , and interactions between, material objects. These demonstrations are more concrete, and very visible. They are the most intuitive demonstrations, but some of them might still surprise you. 

Mechanics demos in particular take up more floor space to present. Many of the demos are awkward or heavy in a way that can make it difficult for younger students to use. Be sure to plan accordingly when preparing to do these demos.

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Thermodynamics studies the interactions of the many small parts of a system such as atoms and molecules (microscopic), to explain the properties of the larger system (macroscopic). These demos focus on heat, temperature, and pressure, and their relation to energy and work. They answer questions like "why do your ears pop when you travel up a mountain?" and "how does a diesel engine work?". 

The vacuum pump and chamber are used for many of these demos. Be sure that both are present and in working order before starting.

  • Bed of Nails
  • Balloon or Marshmallow in a Vacuum
  • Magdeburg Hemispheres
  • Boiling Water at Room Temperature
  • Thermal Expansion of Air (Balloon in LN2)
  • Fire Piston

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Demos in this section cover electrical and magnetic forces and fields. These arise from interactions between and the motion of charged particles. The demos answer questions like "Why does the door knob shock me on a cold day?", "How does a light bulb work?",  "How are magnets related to electricity?", and more. 

A majority of these demos require access to an electric outlet. Some of them are greatly affected by the water in the air. Due to these concerns, they cannot be presented outside easily.

  • Van De Graaff Generator Demos
    • Discharge
    • Standing Hair (Give me a better name please)
    • Lighting a Flourescent Bulb
    • Floating Plates
  • Circuits
  • Magnets, Magnetic Materials, and Magnetic Fields
  • Simple Motor
  • Lenz's Law Tube
  • Faraday Flashlight
  • Ring Launcher
  • Meissner Effect

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Outreach offers a few projects that focus on a more narrow set of subjects. Each project lasts a different amount of time, and begin with a short explanation about the related subjects. 

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