Physics professor a modern day ‘Mr. Wizard’
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Physics professor Rhett Allain adjusts equipment in his classroom while students, from left, Chester Parrott, James Patterson and Rodney Garland Jr. look on. Allain is the author of the highly popular blog Dot Physics.
Dr. Allain demonstrates some principals of magnetism to young Payton Walker at “Super Science after Hours” at the Louisiana Children’s Discovery Museum in Hammond.
Ever wonder about the energy in a Super Bounce Ball? Or what about the scientific accuracy of those guys on television’s Mythbusters program?
Physicist Rhett Allain thinks about things like this all the time and he incorporates them into his role as an educator. Several years ago Allain, an associate professor of physics at Southeastern, developed Dot Physics, a blog that addresses different issues in the realm of physical sciences. He uses his blog topics as examples in his lectures to students. Dot Physics has become a popular feature in “Wired” magazine and on the Internet, receiving over 430,000 hits over the last several months.
“I initially started the blog as an aid for my students to show them how I wanted them to solve problems I presented in class,” said Allain. “I enjoyed it so much that I couldn’t stop. I just kept finding new ideas, new projects and new problems to analyze.”
Most of his posts include photos, graphs, charts and other visuals to help readers understand the discussion.
In effect, Allain is Southeastern’s own version of “The Science Guy,” or for the older generation “Mr. Wizard.” Allain attracted considerable attention nationwide this past summer when he analyzed the physics behind “Angry Birds,” a popular game frequently downloaded for entertainment on cell phones and other devices. It’s part of his effort to inject some fun into science.
Southeastern teacher candidate Rebecca Harris works with Ethan Keller on a science experiment at Super Science after Hours. Dr. Allain frequently involves science and education students in his demonstrations to youngsters.
He takes his “show on the road,” so to speak. Occasionally Allain gets student volunteers to accompany him to the Louisiana Children’s Discovery Museum in downtown Hammond to work with area children to further encourage their interest in science. At a recent “Super Science After Hours” at the museum, he and a number of chemistry, physics and education students staffed tables demonstrating for the kids some small science activities in the areas of electric circuits and magnets, mirrors, spinning wheels and angular momentum.
“Dr. Allain has been volunteering at the Discovery Center since we opened with our Lego League,” said Patti Tregle, director of the center. “He continues to come up with brilliant ideas. He brought his students to host our first Super Science After Hours with a number of fun science experiments for our children and their families to see and try. It was an extremely fun evening in addition to being a great learning opportunity. I can't thank Dr. Allain and his students enough.”
"As physics professors, we try to get our students to 'think physics,” said Gerard Blanchard head of the Department of Chemistry and Physics at Southeastern. “That is, we want them to see physics at work all around them every day. Dr. Allain's blog takes this to a much larger audience."
Allain prides himself on the fact that the ideas and concepts he writes about in his blog are typically laid out in an easy to understand format. When most people hear the word “physics” it brings to mind complicated graphs, laws and principles, he explained, but he works to keep it at a level where everyone can appreciate the science.
“Sometimes I’ll post things that are pretty complicated, but most of the time I try to aim for the general public to explain things in terms that anyone can understand,” he said. “The topics can range from upper-level graduate issues to something so basic a fifth grader can understand it.”
Allain harbors no secrets about the success of his blog, but points out a very interesting way for beginning writers to go about creating a blog and making it work. The key to a successful blog, he said, is to begin by writing for a single audience member -- yourself.
“I tell people who are starting a blog that the first person you are writing for is yourself because you might be the only one reading it,” he said. “And that’s ok. If you start a blog with the intent to get as many people to read it as possible, then it’s probably not going to be very successful. But if you’re writing it for yourself, and you really enjoy what you’re doing, then the success may come later.”
Allain said he will continue to discuss his ideas online and hopes others will come to enjoy and learn more about science through Dot Physics.
“My main goal is to help people understand and get excited about science and physics,” he said. “I think the blog has done a good job of accomplishing that.”
Dot Physics can be found on www.wired.com/wiredscience/dotphysics, or he can be followed on Twitter as @rjallain.
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