Elementary Physics

Physicist David Tucker-Smith welcomed local fourth-graders to his lab.
Local fourth-graders were wowed by physics demonstrations in Professor David Tucker-Smith’s lab on campus.

Students and faculty members walking through Thompson Physics on Monday afternoon found themselves peeking into a classroom full of 60 fourth-graders from Williamstown Elementary School eagerly watching a demonstration by David Tucker-Smith, associate professor of physics.

Frani Micelli, a teacher at Williamstown Elementary, said the annual demonstrations by the physics department are always a highlight of the fourth-grade science curriculum. “The benefit is they get to see cool contraptions and get to hear it from real scientists, not just their teachers,” she said. “It’s more reinforcement.”

The students were wowed from the beginning, when they filed into the classroom to see multiple demonstrations set up. Tucker-Smith covered concepts of basic machines and Newton’s laws of motion, information that the fourth-graders had already been introduced to. The students eagerly anticipated Tucker-Smith’s questions, offering examples from their own lives to supplement his demonstrations and suggesting other experiments they could try as a group.

Highlights included Tucker-Smith rubbing a balloon on his hair to generate static electricity, which garnered a chorus of laughter from the room. One student suggested he stick it to the wall, where it remained for most of the lecture. Nearly the entire room jumped at the chance to help with a later demonstration of acceleration and how we understand motion, and students peppered him with questions throughout.

For his final demonstration, Tucker-Smith used a strobe light to make falling drops of liquid appear frozen in space, demonstrating the effect of gravitational pull on the acceleration of objects as they fall.

Tucker-Smith is the latest of several physics professors who have played a role in a longstanding relationship between the department and the elementary school. “We all want to help out,” he said. “The kids are so curious and enthusiastic.”