Wednesday, January 18, 2006

How to Walk on Broken Glass

By David G. Willey
Skeptical Enquirer

I have long been a firm believer that to teach anything effectively, you have to first get the audience's attention and, preferably, their interest.

This belief stems from a personal experience I had early in my physics career. For the first year that I studied physics, at an English grammar school, my teacher regularly stood up in front of the class and talked to, or rather at, the students for about fifty minutes, nonstop. I soon got very bored with this class, coming close to failing it.

The next year, because of a move brought on by a change in my father's career, I attended a different school. My new physics teacher made liberal use of demonstrations when he taught, often with a dramatic flair. This got our attention. This made physics fun, exciting, and real to us. We could see what it was being applied to.

I've been interested in physics ever since, and especially in dramatic demonstrations. In this article I describe the physics behind four of the more dramatic demonstrations that I now do on occasion for my physics classes: walking on a bed of broken glass, having a concrete block broken on me while lying sandwiched between two beds of nails, dipping my fingers in molten lead, and picking up an orange-hot piece of space shuttle tile.


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