Author: Alex D.
According to Lucas, “you know it’s good when the guest speaker puts on safety goggles.”
Which is exactly what Dr. Sverdrup did before igniting enough guncotton that the front row was hit by a wave of heat and I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
Dr. Sverdrup, our Saturday guest speaker, presented what he called the “Mad? Science Show.” He started with a few electricity experiments: making our hands tingle by running alternating current through a circle of us, then making volunteers try to pry our hands free (spoiler: many couldn’t).
He brought with him a barrel of liquid nitrogen that he used to create a banana hammer, blow up a balloon that sadly didn’t explode (though we played volleyball with it), and smash a rubber tire like it was glass. He poured liquid nitrogen on his hand and on the table. We watched the droplets wriggle and on cushions of gaseous nitrogen.
Not that he stopped there. He told us about the explosive-crazy undergraduates at Caltech who demonstrated that heating a window screen in a metal pipe would make it ring. Naturally, he took a 12ft pipe and used propane flames to mimic the bellow of a parasaurolophus’s crest.
He showed us an infrared camera, and we drew on ourselves with ice, then looked through seemingly opaque lenses of germanium that magnified our infrared selves.
He showed us a “weapon of mass destruction” researched during WWII when bullets became scarce: a cardboard box with a hole in the side that shot vortex rings of smoke.
After lunch, he showed us materials that, in his words, “we didn’t see every day.” We passed around three pucks of metal elements: magnesium, iron, and tungsten, with a density equivalent to that of gold. We saw raleigh scattering in aerogel, one of the lightest materials ever made, and a slice of a meteorite. Then he offered us something else: liquid chlorine, and depleted uranium that set off the geiger counter.
With the lights off, Dr. Sverdrup held ampules of gasses to a tesla coil — including a tungsten light bulb that emitted plumes of dusky purple, low-pressure neon that shone orange where his fingers touched the glass, a tube of plasma that glowed like a lightsaber.
At the end of the show, he asked volunteers to inhale sulfur hexafluoride. Dr. Rengstorf recited the conservation of angular momentum, to which Dr. Andersen responded: “Dr. Rengstorf, I am disappointed in your lack of faith,” to which we all burst out laughing.
Afterwards, Dr. Sverdrup let us play — or rather, experiment, as I should say — with the liquid nitrogen. We tried graham crackers dipped in it (a “delicacy on Pluto”) that made fog billow from our mouths, and more frozen bananas. He also showed us levitation on a superconductor.
Of course, at the end the remaining liquid nitrogen was thrown into the parking lot and evaporated in less than a minute. But we have our own “weapon of mass destruction” (a smaller cardboard box, without the fog).
Hello there! I’m Alex, from San Mateo, California. Outside of SSP, I build planes, write stories, and attempt to catch up on all the science fiction and fantasy books my friends recommend to me. At SSP, I’m grinding psets, dodging cockroaches, and struggling to find non-salty food at the cafeteria.