This post was authored by Mr. Allen Burton.
My mom could not get to the microwave fast enough as I stood gazing at the accidental light show before me. Could this have been the moment that sparked my interest in science? The moment that put me on the path to becoming the teacher that today stands before our “young scholars” (Hess, 2010) attempting to illuminate MVGSers on the joys of physics? It all started with a cold roast beef sandwich from Arby’s that I threw into the microwave, ignorant of the impact it was likely to have on my future. Though I wanted to “nuke” it, the electrical sparks I witnessed flying from the foil wrapper of my sandwich were not what I had in mind–they were better. It was this event that made the phrase, “Now kids, don’t try this at home,” tempt me in ways that could only lead to a career where I am now licensed to try all of those things and am now obligated to pass on the same wise warning to my students.
Yesterday and today were the long awaited Microwave Tricks Days in our Physics 2 classes. Students have spent the entire year building up a conceptual and mathematical understanding of electromagnetic field theory. After studying charges and electric fields, students delve into magnets and magnetic fields. They then work to see how the two phenomena are really interlinked. The grand finale is when all the fundamental laws are brought together to give us the classical wave model of light. Hopefully my students will be quick to clarify that “light” is often used as a general term to describe all types of electromagnetic waves, so microwaves are just light waves with wavelengths too long to be detected by the human eye.
After all of that conceptual and mathematical work, we get to spend some time seeing what it’s all good for. We first made some radio waves and broadcast student iPod tunes across the room. Today we explored unintended cool things we can do with devices that make these electromagnetic waves–a.k.a. sticking things in the microwave your mom would surely object to. While most aspects of this demo were too bright to be photo friendly, the spectrum of things put into the microwave was vast: aluminum foil, CDs, light bulbs flames, eggs, and more.
To see a stunning video of the microwaved candle visit the MVGS Picture Site. All of the sparks and fiercely glowing plasma made for an exciting end to a wonderful journey together. In the coming days we will see a few more fun examples of the electromagnetic phenomena such as wireless internet signals, RF IDs, and maybe a glowing pickle, but the distribution of the Physics 2 text adventure game (which houses the elements of the final exam) surely signals the sad end of our physics phun for the year. I guess it’s time to start cleaning up the mess. 😦