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A Dazzling Physics Show Provides Enduring Lessons

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The 2014 performances of the Rutgers Faraday Christmas Children's Lecture take place Dec. 5 and 6 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. in the Physics Lecture Hall on Busch Campus. Early arrival is recommended; doors open one hour prior to shows for lobby demos. Please visit the Faraday Physics website.

The story below from the School of Arts and Sciences feature archive shows how the annual Lecture has become a traveling show that benefits Rutgers students as well as audiences around the region. 

Elana Resnick acquired some unusual skills this year.

She learned how to set off small explosions, shatter glass with high-pitch frequencies, and use liquid nitrogen to put objects into a deep freeze.  

Resnick, a 2012 School of Arts and Sciences graduate, wasn’t auditioning for a spy movie thriller.

She was working as an assistant to David Maiullo, the charismatic Rutgers staffer whose traveling physics show has been captivating audiences across New Jersey for decades.

Resnick, beginning last spring during her senior year, joined a small team of undergraduates who accompany Maiullo to each show, help set up and take down the equipment, and assist in the demonstrations.

“It seemed like a pretty cool thing to do in my senior year,” Resnick says.

But it has turned out to be much more. Resnick, now a student in the Graduate School of Education, is preparing for a career as a high school physics teacher. She said that working with Maiullo has provided her with an enduring lesson in how to engage kids in a classroom.

“Seeing the way Dave does the demos, and seeing the way he gets the audience to interact – all of that helps me develop my own path for instruction,” she says. “And it’s definitely giving me ideas for demos I can use in the classroom.”

Maiullo’s show is based on a simple proposition: physics is fun and fascinating. And he’s willing to detonate hydrogen-filled balloons or lie down on a bed of nails to prove it.

Many of his undergraduate assistants have enjoyed the experience so much that they’ve gone on to become physics teachers, including some who had never planned to teach.

“Working with me, they definitely get an understanding of how much fun physics education is,” says Maiullo, who uses his skills and background to support physics courses throughout the Department of Physics and Astronomy in SAS. “Then they start to think: ‘well maybe I can be a teacher.’’’

Jonathan Mayes, a 2011 SAS graduate, said he had planned to work as a scientist in the private sector until he began working with Maiullo.  Now he’s teaching physics to high school and middle school students in Edison.

“Working with Dave made me see the light,” he says. “It helped me understand how much you can help students and help society. When you see the faces light up, it’s such a good thing.

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The show was developed from the Rutgers Faraday Christmas Children's Lecture that Maiullo and Physics Professor Mark Croft perform every December.

Maiullo does about 40 additional shows outside of Rutgers every year, beginning each one with an explanation of basic physics concepts, and then demonstrating those concepts in imaginative ways. 

To illustrate, for example, Newton’s Law - for every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction – he sits on a cart and sprays a fire extinguisher to propel himself across the stage.

Maiullo is constantly engaging and encouraging his audience, creating a friendly atmosphere of discovery. 

‘You are all scientists,” he said last spring to an audience of middle school girls at a private religious school. “And I am going to convince you of that by the time I leave.”



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