November 27, 2021

Physics bus rolls into Marathon

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Julian Spizzirri, 11, left, and Morgan Wright, 11, right, create smoke-filled bubbles with a fog machine Tuesday at the visiting Physics Bus in Marathon.

Greg Armstrong held out two sticks with thick twine in front of a fog machine as a group of children watched. After a few attempts of making bubbles that ended up popping too soon, he got some nitrogen-filled bubbles that were foggy white on the inside.

And like the other giant bubbles made, the kids ran around trying to pop them, releasing the fog inside. It was one of many sights kids could experience Tuesday when the Physics Bus came to Marathon.

The Ithaca-based Physics Bus, looking like a rocketship with foil covering the outside and fake rocket boosters on the back, stopped by the Marathon Civic Center, allowing around 100 kids to see what homemade contraptions can be turned into science experiments.

Inside the bus, television screens were distorted by dragging a magnet across them, influencing the electrons. Kids could measure the amount of electricity in their bodies by laying their hands down on two metal pads. Hair dryers were blowing balls into the air and inflating a miniature flailing tube man.

Outside the bus, along with making giant bubbles, kids could launch bottle rockets made of water-filled plastic bottles propelled by pressurized air.

Claire Fox, the education director, staffed the bus with two employees, including Armstrong, and her 11-year-old son, Casper. She said they repurpose old materials to make science accessible to everyone.

“You don’t need to know calculus to be curious and discover things,” Fox said.

“It’s cool to see electricity just touch your finger and shock you,” Julian Spizzirri said of his favorite display: the shock dome, a metal-covered orb that delivers a shock to a person who reaches for it. The 11-year-old came with his younger brother, Gabe, age 9, his mother, Betsy Penrose, and friends Brandon Hunter and Morgan Wright, both 11. They’re all from Marathon.

The bus had also visited Appleby Elementary School during the recent school year, which the kids attend, and they had to see it again.

Gabe and Morgan liked the homemade plasma cutter. A pair of alligator clips hold a bit of graphite from a pencil that is charged with 24 volts of electricity. The electricity heats the graphite and when it touches aluminum foil, the metal turns into plasma.

“It’s cool to see the lead heat up and turn red,” Morgan said.

“It has simple ingredients I can do at home,” Gabe added.

Fox said volunteers, mostly high school students, help build the experiments. They are meant to appeal to people of all ages.

“We went to a retirement community in Ithaca where some retired physics professors lived,” Fox said. “They were all lining up to come through.”