This week, the Physics Department installed the equipment for seven hands-on physics exhibits intended to intrigue and capture the attention of students and faculty. The displays are located in a previously unoccupied alcove on the second floor of Randall Laboratory.

This project was designed by Professor Carl Akerlof as a by-product of his teaching experiences during the last several years. Given the task of renovating a substantial fraction of the undergraduate lab curriculum, he ended up constructing a number of gadgets that littered his desk and attracted interest from a variety of folks who could not resist playing with the objects at hand.

The first five displays demonstrate magnetic induction, the principles of refraction at a boundary, the chaotic behavior of a double pendulum, optical rotation in a chiral sugar solution and levitation of diamagnetic graphite. Two more displays will be completed during the remainder of the summer.

All of the exhibits require direct participation of the viewer to see the intended effects. “I’m hoping that these displays will lead students (and faculty) to a deeper appreciation of how physics relates to the world around us,” Professor Akerlof said.

More recently, Professor Akerlof gave a public talk titled, “The Art of Physics” that was followed by opportunities for the audience to experiment with a number of these “toys”. This naturally led to the idea of rebuilding several more of these exhibits for more permanent display in an area central to the Physics Department activities.


News Contact: Carol Rabuck,, 734.763.2588