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 Tuesday, Mar. 28, 2006 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


The Show-and-Tell of Physics, on a Grand Scale
by Linda Besen, Publications and Creative Services

He"s the wizard behind the CU Wizards, the keeper of the keys, the “governor of toys.” Michael Thomason, director of the Physics Learning Laboratories, is the go-to guy for resources, both actual and virtual, for learning physics.

Thomason explains that we use our eyes, ears, and our kinesthetic senses to learn how the physical world really works. He says, “the learning labs enable us to demonstrate the phenomena of the physical world in the classroom, especially the non-intuitive phenomena, and to do this on as large a scale as possible and in a way that involves as many human senses as possible.”

The Physics Learning Laboratories consist of a lecture demonstration lab, a PC computing lab and an advanced lab that includes electronics, optics, optical engineering and modern physics areas.

Perhaps the most recognized features of the lecture demonstration lab are two enormous rotating stages, found in only a few labs in the world. Experiments can be set up behind a stage wall, and at the appropriate time the stage can be rotated, secret-passage style, into a physics lecture hall to reveal the equipment. The stages are 30 feet across and take about 90 seconds to rotate.

A large part of Thomason"s responsibility is designing, fabricating and caring for the physics experiments available to professors. “We have expensive, state-of-the-art equipment and we also have one-of-a-kind equipment that was designed and built here—and is very valuable for that reason.”

Sometimes children"s toys are used to demonstrate the principles of physics— hence one of Thomason"s favorite titles: “The Governor of Toys.”

Today filtering through Internet physics simulations to find good resources is also part of Thomason"s job. He helped create a classification scheme for physics lecture demonstrations and a bibliography of relevant publications. His web site hosts the only interactive online version of this bibliography, which is used worldwide.

A recipient of the President"s Faculty Excellence Award, Thomason is a man content with his life"s work: “The deepest level of enjoyment for me is doing the science; the scientific and aesthetic pleasure of interacting with nature and being surprised by the results.”

For more information see the Physics Learning Laboratories Web site.

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