On campus beat: Busting myths to learn physics

  • Article by: Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 26, 2011 - 12:19 AM

Joel Riordan had read in Rick Reilly's "Shanks for Nothing" that when a golf ball is frozen, it travels farther.

But the Hamline University student knows better, now. Thanks to physics.

Riordan is in a first-year seminar that requires students to bust myths. Yep, like the TV show "MythBusters."

Physics Prof. Andy Rundquist gets the students access to the building materials and ballfields they need to answer life's pressing questions: Will tin foil scramble a speed radar? Can you climb out of a sandpit after being buried to the neck? Will a frozen golf ball fly farther?

The myths must involve physics and no strange materials. "He put the kibosh on a bunch of ideas," reported Summer Haag, a first-year student from Rochester. For example, he nixed the question of whether a duck's quack would echo. "We weren't allowed to get a duck," she said.

To figure out how far a frozen golf ball goes, Riordan's group constructed a rig out of two sawhorses, a medal rod and a sledgehammer. They hit. They measured. Then they went to the soccer field for some "large-scale experiments."

"A heated golf ball actually goes farther," Riordan said. "So it was the complete opposite of what we believed."

The team filmed each step, explaining the physics along the way. At the end of their video, the golf group spelled out "BUSTED" on the grass with golf balls. On Thursday, the class will watch the five groups' YouTube videos and eat pizza.

Those videos capture more of the stops and starts of the research process than a dry write-up could, Rundquist said. And this course, in its second year, is anything but dry.

Rundquist goes by "SuperFly" and during class, often claps and shouts "Go!"

He said that he wanted students to do experiments earlier in their college careers.

"The MythBusters approach, I figured, would be a good draw for students who might be intimidated by the word 'research.'"

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close