Physics Force arrives Friday for show at Kennedy Elementary

WILLMAR -- The Physics Force calls what it does "physics with shenanigans." The public will have a chance to see some of the shenanigans at 7 p.m. Friday when the Force brings its Physics Circus show to the Kennedy Elementary gym. Admission is free.

WILLMAR -- The Physics Force calls what it does "physics with shenanigans."

The public will have a chance to see some of the shenanigans at 7 p.m. Friday when the Force brings its Physics Circus show to the Kennedy Elementary gym. Admission is free.

The Force, made up of active and retired high school science teachers and University of Minnesota professors, will also perform for Willmar students in grades 4-8 during the day Friday.

It is an outreach program of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota.

According to the group's Web site, the show is a combination of science and slapstick. The members of the Force crack jokes and perform unusual stunts while explaining the science that makes the stunts possible.


Two of the retired teachers, Jack Netland and Hank Ryan, were in Willmar a week ago to test the lighting at Kennedy and to be sure they will have enough room for one of their most noteworthy stunts.

The "Monkey and Hunter" stunt involves dropping a man from 20 feet in the air while he catches a billiard ball shot at him from a cannon. It's a demonstration of gravity that, to their knowledge, no other physics demonstration group does, said Ryan.

He taught physics and chemistry in Moundsview for 32 years.

Ryan originated the stunt, but he's since turned over the duty to a younger member of the team.

The team's show takes one concept at a time, like sound waves, air pressure, mechanics and inertia. For each concept they start with a simple demonstration and move up to more complicated principles.

"Each section usually ends with something pretty spectacular," Ryan said.

"We're trying to show young people that physics is actually interesting, and it's understandable, and, lastly, it can even be a lot of fun," he added.

The section on inertia looks at "things that want to stay where they are," Netland said. It explains phenomena like lying on a bed of nails and breaking a concrete block on someone's chest.


Netland didn't want to give up all the group's secrets before the show, though.

"We do have a certain amount of crazy in the guys," he said. "Some of it is a little dangerous." They always tell their audiences not to try any of the stunts without proper training and supervision.

Over time, "we've learned what goes wrong and how to prevent it," Netland said. He is a native of New London and taught at Osseo for 30 years, mostly physics.

The teachers hope their shows, which they've done for 24 years, will overcome a "phobia" of science that some kids have.

It's not their goal to turn all the students at their shows into physicists, they said, but they hope to show them that they needn't be fearful of science classes.

There's no hard evidence that their shows get kids into science classes, they said, but they have some indication that it might help.

Occasionally, a professor at the University will meet a student who says the Physics Force was an influence.

Karen Kraemer, head of the Willmar Senior High science department, said Willmar is fortunate to have the Physics Force make a visit. The group performs in the Twin Cities area most often and does only a few shows in rural Minnesota each year.


"It was such an opportunity to bring the group out," Kraemer said. "I'm glad our district is doing it."

Kraemer said she hopes it does influence some students.

"I think of it as a kickoff for science and engaging kids in science," she said. "Research supports using elementary students as their audience." That's the age when students are forming their opinions of different subject areas, she explained.

It's important to show students that science can be fun and has relevance to their lives, Kraemer said.

Science teachers at the high school are concerned about the number of college-bound students who avoid taking chemistry and physics, she said. Another concern is the low number of girls in those classes.

Netland and Ryan said they share those concerns. Ryan said his school asked girls already studying science to persuade other girls to register for chemistry and physics. "It changed right away," he said. "We made them socially responsible."

The original Physics Force members probably didn't help a lot because kids "saw all these white guys on stage," Netland said. When they recruit audience volunteers, they try to include a wide variety of people, he added.

A second-generation Physics Force is half male and half female, and an effort has been made to include people of color.


The Physics Force Web site can be found at and offers videos of some of their stunts.

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