The Physics Van to roll into Los Alamos Thursday

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By The Staff

Los Alamos alumni always come back to show how they’ve turned out and this week, Aspen Elementary School graduate Richard C. Korzekwa will do just that.

Korzekwa is here at the request of friend and fellow teacher Brittney Newman. With the help of the Bradbury Science Museum, he is visiting Aspen Elementary School, the Jemez Pueblo and Chamisa Elementary School in the Physics Van.

Korzewka graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May with a degree in engineering physics. He now works in the Theoretical Division, with the Applied Nuclear Theory team at Los Alamos National Laboratory. His most recent work has dealt with diagnostics for future Inertial Confinement Fusion experiments.

This week, he’ll scale things back a bit with a show optimized for second and third grade scientists. “At first this surprised me, because we talk about some things that most kids won’t see until high school,” said Korzekwa, “but it’s surprising the kinds of things kids that age can absorb.”

“The Physics Van” is a group of dedicated students at the University of Illinois-UC with an equally dedicated Suburban car and a bunch of cool science equipment. The students are mostly undergraduates comprised of engineering and physics students, with a few others thrown in for good measure.  

The van usually schedules 25 to 30 shows a year, most within an hour of Champaign, but occasionally takes longer trips to reach the more isolated farming communities.

The Physics Van has traveled for 15 years through the dedicated effort of the Department of Physics and the support of sponsor, Mats Selen.

Selen is a professor in the department and although he allows the students to do the bulk of the work, including organization, management of volunteers and the actual performances, he is always available to help.

Korzewka and friends have ventured from the isolated communities to the Land of Enchantment in one of a few trips the group takes to provide additional outreach.

As Selen oversees his college students, Korzekwa oversees the younger set as his way to give back.

“What’s more important than being a fun distraction from class is getting across the message that science can be very fun and accessible. My exposure to these kinds of demonstrations meant a lot to me when I was younger,” Korzekwa said.

Thursday, the Physics Van and crew will be at Aspen Elementary School in the morning, with a stop at Chamisa Elementary School at 6:30 p.m. and although meant for the kindergarten through sixth grade set, the community is welcome to attend.

The crew will also field questions of all science-related varieties, both at their website, www.physicsvan.org, or via e-mail at physvan@uiuc.edu.