Around Campus: Texas State Physics Camp

Cold water that boils?
Deflated marshmallows?
Welcome to Physics Camp!

Local students watch water repidly evaporate in a vacuum chamber.

By Catherine Harper

This week at Texas State, local kids are learning about science. And loving every minute of it.

The Texas State Physics Camp, a student-run program sponsored by the Society of Physics Students, offers kids the opportunity to interact with physics through hands-on experiments and demonstrations by Texas State physics majors and student volunteers.

SPS started the camp in 2008, as the brainchild of student Amanda Gregory. She recently graduated with her master’s in physics. From the start, there has been no cost for children to attend; the one-week camp is funded by donations and SPS fundraising efforts.

Alan "Woody" Woodall leads a demonstration in a physics lab at Texas State.

Alan “Woody” Woodall, who is in his second summer of leading the camp, uses his knowledge and enthusiasm for physics to get the kids involved with the activities. As president of the Society of Physics Students and a physics major at Texas State, Woodall says he enjoys getting other people excited about physics and is learning much about teaching through his role.

Marshmallows expand in a vacuum chamber.

“Our goal is to educate the kids about all different areas of physics, but also make physics look fun,” Woodall says. With activities such as building hot air balloons and making bottle rockets, the kids stay engaged.

Each day at the camp centers around a different area of study in physics, such as space and gravity, electricity, light and pressure. A demonstration of the effects of air pressure in a sealed container produced cold water that boiled and marshmallows that expanded then rapidly shrank. Woodall distributed the “shriveled marshmallows” to the campers. “I’ll cook a few more,” he said as the kids prompted him to keep going.

Marshmallows shrivel as the chamber is filled with air.

For the student volunteers that help with the camp, the process of getting kids interested in science is the most rewarding. Kevin Kendall, a physics major at Texas State who is set to graduate in 2013, says the interactions and enthusiasm from the kids make the camp meaningful.

“It’s really nice to see the kids care,” Kendall says. “This camp gives them an easy visual experience which gets them involved in physics.”

On the final day of the 2011 camp, Woodall says, “My hopes are that at least some of the kids come away from the camp thinking that science is fun or interesting, instead of thinking science is difficult or boring.”

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