Adam Beehler: The Physics Demonstration Wizard
Adam Beehler is our physics demonstration specialist, who has taught and inspired thousands with his exploding, colorful, and entertaining physics demonstrations. Beehler has been with the University of Utah since 1999, enriching the lives of many on campus and in the community. He received the Governor's Medal of Science and Technology in 2016; you can read more about that honor here.
We asked Adam about his program and his thoughts about being a physics demonstration specialist. Here are his responses:
What do you enjoy most about directing your program?
I chose physics as my career because I like it, but I have stayed in physics because I can share it with others. That is what I enjoy most about the teaching and outreach that I do, namely, sharing how things work. The questions, “How does it work?” or more simply, “Why?!” are the essence of science. When you were a small child, you probably asked others these questions for just about everything you saw, heard, or experienced in the world. The demonstrations I present give us a glimpse into how physics can help us understand the world around us in new ways. I delight in seeing science help us learn how to answer these questions for ourselves. It opens our eyes to the beauty and excitement of the natural world. Some would say that getting into the details of science to explain something as beautiful as, say, a rainbow dampens the experience. For me, understanding the science behind a rainbow opens my eyes even more to its beauty.
What is your favorite memory/story of your program?
One of my favorite things about presenting physics demonstrations is when groups send thank you notes and pictures. Sure, it makes me feel good, but more importantly, I get to see how science impacts their lives. Here are just a few of those letters and drawings:
A student drawing of Adam Beehler
What is your favorite physics demo?
Oh my, that is a tough and many-faceted question for me!
I remember which demonstration I thought was the coolest when I first saw it. I call it colored shadows. I love light and color, and it was thrilling to see three separate lights of red, green, and blue combine on a wall to produce white. It was outright fascinating to be able to stand in between the lights and the wall and cast my shadow onto the wall. My shadow was not only colored red, green, and blue; it was cyan, magenta, and yellow as well!
The favorite demonstration for audiences is the Tesla coil. It is impressive, big, dangerous, loud, and spectacular. A Tesla coil is an electrical circuit that steps up household voltage to high values (say, a million volts) and creates miniature lightning bolts. Nikola Tesla invented them and was, thus, one of the first people to create a Wi-Fi device. The output can be transmitted wirelessly to other devices.
My favorite demonstration to do, though, is any that elicits the awe and wonder of spectators. This might seem like I'm avoiding the question, but I don't have one demonstration that is my favorite. I enjoy seeing the wonder and amazement of the natural world in the faces of the participants, and it doesn't matter which demonstration brings that out. Many times, I have thought a specific audience would react well to a certain demonstration, and I expected it to be my favorite demonstration to perform; however, it was sometimes a completely different demonstration that evoked astonishment.
What is the best way for a student to contact you if they're interested in physics demos?
The best way to contact me is through my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to see examples of the physics demonstrations Adam does, check out the University of Utah Department of Physics and Astronomy youtube channel here.