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Little Shop of Physics Open House returns for 27th year

boy sits on rotating disks with weights in hands
Sarah Karp, an open house volunteer and former Colorado State University student, aides a child in an experiment called “Swirl and Hurl.” For this experiment, the person on the rotating circle spins around with weights in their hands, and when the person brings their arms in and out, the person spins faster or slower to conserve momentum. (Photo courtesy of Adam Pearlstein)

With a half-million volt Tesla coil, hands-on experiments and other collaborating scientists, the Little Shop of Physics is hosting their 27th Open House.

On Saturday, Feb. 24, from 10 a.m.–4 p.m., the Open House will take place in the Lory Student Center and surrounding areas. There will be familiar experiments from the last 27 years, as well as multiple new experiments and improvements for this year’s event.


The physics department hosted a competition for visiting high schools called the Physics Bowl when the department would set up fun and interactive demonstrations for those who were not competing at the time 27 years ago. Brian Jones, the LSOP director, eventually took this over, opened it to the public and grew the event to the size it is today.

“The first year, we had one room with about five tables in it, and about 20 different things set up,” Jones said. “We had about 200 people come by and we thought ‘this is fantastic!'”

Over the years, the Open House has grown to have 300 hands-on science experiments, three different presentations and half a dozen partners from places all over campus. Approximately 8,000 visitors showed up to last year’s event.

“It’s just like seeing an old friend, but seeing a lot of old friends, and a bunch of new friends,” said Adam Pearlstein, a LSOP outreach coordinator. “Like 8,500 of them.”

That’s what I’m looking forward to: these moments of sheer joy and it’s all about science.” – Heather Michalak, Little Shop of Physics outreach coordinator

This year’s theme is “¡Exploramous!” The LSOP wants to encourage the people who explore and try out the experiments themselves in order to lean how they work.

“The idea is that you can just work with things and touch them, and you’re the one who gets to drive the process and see how things work,” Jones said.

This year, the LSOP has added 30 new experiments, including some called rainbow fractals, into the shadows and sand dune lagoon. The sand dune lagoon uses a blow dryer to stream air into the bottom of a bucket of sand, and the sand starts to behave like water because the sand particles are allowed to move freely past each other.

two men sit in lawn chairs, one seemingly significantly larger than the other
Brian Jones, director of the Little Shop of Physics, and Damian Rupp, a senior studying physics and a LSOP Intern pose for an illustration of forced perspective. Jones is in a much larger chair with a much larger slinky, but he is farther away. The seats are aligned at the top of the chair to in order to give this illusion. This set up will be available at the Open House for people to take photos of. (Photo courtesy of Adam Pearlstein)

Heather Michalak, one of the outreach coordinators, is excited about the Open House and the experiments they have for students to explore. She is the most excited to see all the students happy faces, Michalak said.

“One of my favorite things kids do, and adults do, is they get so excited they have involuntary body movements,”  Michalak said. “They’re just jittery with excitement because it’s just amazing. I have this video of this kid who’s just so excited about this experiment that he can’t control what he’s doing. That’s what I’m looking forward to: these moments of sheer joy and it’s all about science.”


Jones said that at an open house, one adult came up to him saying that he was excited about the event when he was a child, and couldn’t wait to have kids so he could bring his kids to this event.

“It’s nice to be a part of something that creates a community event at CSU where it’s got enough longevity that someone could think that way,” Jones said. “That’s kind of cool.”

Collegian reporter Julia Trowbridge can be reached at or on twitter @chapin_jules.

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