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Physics Around Us
In many ways, physics is the most abstract of the sciences. Yes, we observe it all the time: things move, interact, have different colours, make different sounds, feel heavy or light or hot or cold; but what makes them so? Physics may only be the study of matter and energy, but do we really understand “matter” and “energy”? Is it always obvious? Surely not, or scientists wouldn’t have come up with terms like “dark matter” or “dark energy”, where the word “dark” is simply being used as shorthand for something that “we don’t understand”! In any case, since humans have existed on Earth, more and more of what has been “dark” has unravelled new “light”. From Archimedes to Newton to Einstein, some of our proudest moments as a species has been the ability of people such as these to look into the “dark” and give us “light”.
In this Theme of 3 Open TACtivities, we will discover some fundamental concepts of physics on our own using easily available household materials. Machines have been one of the inventions of humans that have simplified (some would say complicated!) our lives immensely: here we make a simple machine, a catapult, which (like most machines) has been used throughout history for good and bad; an incredible Native American folk toy – gee haw whammy diddle – made from a pencil shows how vibrations can be converted to perfect circular motion: something that has perplexed PhD students and Nobel Laureates alike; and using thread and straw pieces / hollow sketch pen tubes, we make a classic “climbing” butterfly toy, which impresses upon us both the value of friction and the incredible skill required to climb a coconut tree! So the next time you see or feel or hear things around you, observe more closely, and the “dark” may well become “light”.