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Physics Circus enchants elementary school students


Professor Olness sits on a bed of nails to demonstrate the separate concepts of force and pressure.
See the Physics Circus slide show.

University Park Elementary School students were spellbound as physicist Fred Olness snatched a tablecloth from under a place setting to demonstrate inertia. They plugged their ears and watched in awe as he sped across a stage on a four-wheeled cart fueled by a fire extinguisher. When the SMU physics professor sat on a bed of nails, the room filled with their applause.

For more than 15 years, Olness and other physics faculty members have demonstrated complex scientific principles to school children through the Physics Circus.

“This is something we do often in science,” Olness says. “If we don’t understand something or can’t see it, we use a simple model to explain it.”

The use of everyday items, such as a hair dryer to demonstrate air flow, helps students to understand that physics principles are all around them. Students participated in various experiments in Olness’s presentation, including assistants Ben Olness, a kindergartner at UP, and Jaccqueline Olness, a fourth-grader at UP.

Olness lives in University Park with his wife Gloria, and children Jonathan, Jacqueline, and Benjamin. He has taught at SMU since 1991 and is currently professor of physics and co-chair of the Dallas Regional Science Fair.


By Laurel O’Connor, a senior corporate communications and public affairs major at SMU.

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