Fiery Verse

fiery verseWe always love explosions here at Pop Goes the Page, but today we are going to bring you something truly unique…today, we are going to show you words as fire. Yes, FIRE!

This remarkable demonstration would not be possible without two things: 1) A Ruben’s tube, and 2) Princeton University’s Manager of Undergraduate Labs and Demonstrations, Mr. Omelan Stryzak. There’s an interview with Omelan at the end of the post, but for now, let’s get to the FIRE!

A Ruben’s tube, which was invented by German physicist Heinrich Ruben’s in 1905, is a length of tube with perforations along the top. One end of the tube is attached to a flammable gas, and the other end to a small speaker or frequency generator. Send the gas flowing through the pipe, ignite where it escapes through the perforations, and then introduce sound through the speaker. The flames will oscillate higher and lower according to the pitch of the sound or song.

Here’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” played through the Ruben’s tube:


Of course, being the literary fans we are, we wanted to see what happens when we read into the Ruben’s tube. Wouldn’t it be cool to see words as FIRE? The short answer is yes. It is waaaaay cool to see words as fire. Here’s Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. Please note: I recited it all weird to get the pitch of my voice in different places.


This awesome demo was masterminded by Omelan Stryzak, Princeton University Department of Physics. Here he is, photographed in his office/magical science playground.

omelan stryzakAnd we do mean magical because look at this! An actual levitating object, just casually sitting on the edge of his desk!

Also! A secret moving wall…which technically allows equipment from Omelan’s office to be smoothly transported to the adjoining auditorium. But we couldn’t resist a turn on it.


There are a number of other way cool objects in Omelan’s realm, from plasma balls, to portraits of Archimedes, to machines that break wineglasses with excruciatingly high tones!

science lab imagesOmelan hails from Bridgewater, New Jersey, where, as a home schooled youth, he continually curb shopped for thrown out electronics (photocopiers, fax machines, etc.) to disassemble and learn from. Graduating college with a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering, he has worked for Disney, traveled the world, and adopted a stray kitten who he aptly named “Fizzix.” He’s also a father with a young son, and self-admits a newfound skill of telling “absolutely terrible Dad jokes.”

How did you land this incredibly cool job?

I had come back to NJ from an IT job in Miami and was teaching for the “Mad Science” franchise as a break and I received a call from Princeton…apparently the Physics Department picked out my resume because I had experience with small mechanical devices and electronics (I had learned early on – ALWAYS keep your resume in circulation… you never know who might reach out…). They wanted someone to build the sensor head to the ACT (Atacama Cosmology Telescope) and I could not pass up the opportunity to add the Princeton logo to my resume…

I spent time in the cleanroom assembling parts at the heart of the telescope that were only millimeters in size and making giant cables as wide as my wrist…I even spent a few months working at the telescope in Chile on the Atacama Plateau (at the time it was the highest continuously manned telescope in the world – and it was looking for/at the beginning of the Universe!). As this very cool project was winding down, two elderly gentlemen who were doing the job I have now were retiring – I was a pretty good fit and decided to take the job. Long story short, I kind of fell into this job.

What’s your philosophy on science education?

I wish everyone were gifted with at least a little interest in science and the opportunity to explore: Applied right, it is like having an additional sense or x-ray vision applicable to every-day life. With that said, science will become increasingly more important for future generations of children and their increasingly difficult problems to solve. It should also be more of a communal education/understanding for all – fewer revered specialists or individuals to blindly follow and rely on to make critical mistakes. My part in this? I’ve always described by job as “Bringing the boring science book to life – showing concepts in the real world to aid understanding and entertain at the same time.”

Describe a typical work day:

Its definitely changed a lot with a 13 month old… ^_^

  • Wife wakes me up just before 6am as she leaves to go teach high-school….. out the door by 7:30am at the latest.
  • My Wife’s brother takes care of our Son during the day. Never thought we’d have a “manny”. ^_^
  • If the weather is good, take the bike off the back of my car and bike from the parking lot to my office.
  • Prep any last minute demo requests – Professors love to have ideas around midnight/1am and send me an email.
  • Deliver any specially requested demos to the smaller classrooms for precepts (different sections of classes where class size is smaller and students get more one-on-one time with Professors and demos)
  • Make sure the demos pulled the previous day are ready for Professorial review (basically lecture rehearsal and getting the profs familiar with the equipment – Usually I have to remind/chase down a few Professors to remind them that they need to come down to look at their demos…. Or even remind them that we have demos to reinforce a particular topic that they are teaching)
  • Make any requested modifications/create new demos that are relevant to the upcoming classes. (I’ve got carte blanche and training on all the Department’s resources – all of the machine shops (including the machines that can kill you!), stock room, laser cutter, departmental credit card…. Ohh the possibilities)
  • Setup the demos on-stage the day’s lecture(s) while being careful of scheduling (the two large lecture halls are multi-purpose – Physics classes are not the only users)
  • Run the lecture with the Professor – depending on who is lecturing my interaction can change… sometimes I’m sitting on the sidelines just in case something goes wrong, other times I’m the one describing the science and running the apparatus while the Professor waits/watches.
  • Once the lecture is over, hang around the classroom if I can for curious students who want to learn more or have trouble understanding the demo(s). Very rewarding. ^_^
  • Break everything down and return it to backstage for cleanup/storage.
  • Pull relevant demos from inventory for the coming three days for cleaning/refurbishment/lecture prep.
  • If we recorded the lecture, either edit and upload the video myself or offload the workload to a coworker.
  • If I’m home first, cook dinner and snuggle with our Son.
  • Once baby bedtime is over, a good hour on the computer is spent on emails, making technical drawings, writing code or paying bills. Surprisingly, I don’t participate with any social networking (Facebook, etc..) saves a lot of time!
  • Then the typical chores/cleaning/home maintenance before bed.

What’s your favorite science toy in the workshop?

Always a tough question! But I really do like the reactions that I get from the singing Tesla coil exploding a balloon hydrogen filled balloon….. and EVERYONE hates it when I make it sing “Let it Go”. ^_^


Wasn’t sure if I was going to include this in the post, but since Omelan DID mention singing…here’s Katie with her rendition of “You Are My Sunshine,” courtesy of sulfur hexafluoride:


SF6 is an inert, nontoxic and incombustible gas, but…DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME KIDS!

Abracadabra

abracadabra

Hat, wand, and rabbit ready? Then…it’s showtime! Prepare yourself for a magical extravaganza extraordinaire with a top hat packed with mind-boggling magic tricks!

We read Life is Magic by Meg McLaren (Clarion Books, 2016). Not every rabbit is the right fit for a magic show assistant. But Houdini the rabbit? He’s a natural! However, when a stage trick turns the magician into a rabbit himself, it’s up to Houdini to keep the show running until he can figure a way to get his human back!

You’ll need:

  • 1 plastic top hat
  • 1 strip of white poster board (approximately 2″ x 28″)
  • Black poster board
  • 1 square of plastic tablecloth (approximately 6.5″ x 6.5″)
  • 1 magic rabbits template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 1 piece of string (approximately 27″)
  • 1 snippet of plastic straw (approximately 1.75″)
  • 1 piece of PVC pipe (approximately 10.5″)
  • A selection of color masking tape
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

magic top hat exterior

First, use markers to decorate a 2″ x 28″ strip of white poster board (we offered foil star stickers as well!). Wrap the hatband around the outside of a plastic top hat. We bought our hats from Oriental Trading Company (item #70/1284) for $8 a dozen. INSIDE the hat is where the magic happens…

magic top hat interiorAs you can see, the interior of the hat has two hidden pockets. These are made from 2 rectangles of black poster board taped inside the hat. After some testing, we learned that the pockets need to be fairly large (4.25″ x 9.5″) in order for the tricks to works successfully.

First, stuff a 6.5″ x 6.5″ piece of plastic tablecloth inside the right pocket of the hat.This is your magical “handkerchief.” Meanwhile, on the left side of the hat, notice the little 1.75″ snippet of plastic drinking straw? That’s the beginning of the pull string for a long line of magic rabbits…

magic hat rabbits pull stringWe gave the kids white rabbits to color, but if you want to print them in rainbow, you’ll find that template here. Knot a piece of string around the drinking straw snippet, then tape the rabbits to the dangling string. Bunch the rabbits up and slip them into the left pocket of the hat. However, leave the drinking straw snippet dangling outside the pocket so your fingers can find it later when you’re performing your trick.

Ready for the magic? Trick #1: First, show your audience that the inside of the hat is “empty.” Then, sneeze into your hat dramatically. While you are sneezing, pull the plastic handkerchief from the hidden pocket and say “Ta da!” Trick #2: Again, show the inside of your hat is empty. Then find the dangling drinking straw snippet with your fingers. Shout “Abracadabra!” and yank the line of rabbits out of your hat!

We also made classic wands by wrapping a 10.5″ piece of PVC pipe with color masking tape. And who can resist a poster board bow tie that attaches to your collar with a small paperclip?

magic wand and bowtieIf you’d like a add a third trick to your magic show, we highly recommend the “sticky wand” trick. You’ll find it, and other awesome tricks, in this “Incredible Illusions” post, but I’ve modified the instructions slightly below.

First, run your hand around the rim of your hat, announcing that it is giving you “magic magnetic powers.” Next, hold the wand in your “magnified” hand. Say “Observe my stupendous magnetic powers!” Extend your arm across your body and out to your side, still grasping the wand. Wrap your free hand around the wrist of your wand hand. Slowly and dramatically, lift each finger from the wand until you no longer appear to be holding it.

wand trick 2

But you are holding it of course. Because when you grab your wrist, you sneak a finger behind your wand hand and hold the wand like this:

wand trick 3 Tell the audience they have magic abilities too. On the count of three, have them audience clap once to “demagnetize” the wand. When you hear the clap, lift your finger to release the wand, and let it fall dramatically to the floor. Then take a big bow!

Magic Magnetic Castle

magic magentic castle

Use your magic wand to reveal the secrets of this enchanted castle – raise the drawbridge, hoist the flag, open windows, discover buried treasure, and more! All it takes is a magnet and a few well-placed paper clips!

We read I Wished for a Unicorn, written by Robert Heidbreder, and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Kids Can Press, 2000). A little girl wishes for a unicorn, and wow… one appears! Granted, it looks and acts suspiciously like her pet dog, but that doesn’t stop the two from having amazing adventures in a magic woods and enchanted castle.

You’ll need:

  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (we used a 10″ diameter cake circle)
  • 1 small box (ours was 4″ x 4″ x 4″ – a small tissue box works too)
  • 2 paper towel tubes
  • 2 paper cone water cups
  • Construction paper
  • 1 magnet castle template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 brass fastener
  • 1 pair of unused, intact chopsticks
  • 1 button magnet
  • 6-7 small paper clips
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hole punch
  • Hot glue

magnet castle finished

As far as construction, this castle is very basic. We used a 4″ x 4″ x 4″ craft box with the lid cut off, and hot glued it to a corrugated cardboard base. Add 2 shortened paper towel tube towers, 2 cone drinking cup roofs, and some (optional) green tissue paper shrubs . The drawbridge is a hinged piece of cardboard (we used the scrap from our box lid). The moat is construction paper. Wrap the castle with construction paper if you like, then decorate with metallic markers and perhaps a jewel or two. You’re done!

Infusing your castle with magical powers is also easy, thanks to this “magic wand.” It’s a pair of intact chopsticks decorated with markers or patterned tape. Hot glue a button magnet to the wider end:

castle magnet wandNext, tape paperclips to various castle elements. Here’s what we did, using our castle template. The drawbridge lowers to reveal a wizard:

magnet drawbridgeThe moat rises to reveal a water dragon:

magnet water dragonThe castle towers each have a window that hinges upward to reveal something inside. Below you see a cat…the other window has a friendly flower in a pot:

magnet castle tower windowAbove the drawbridge, you can also raise a flag! Use a hole punch to create a hole in the pole of the template flag, and in the wall of the castle. Thread a brass tack through the holes, tape a paperclip to the back of the flag, and fly it high!

magnet castle flagAround the back of the castle is an (optional) fountain. We wrapped a packing tape core with tin foil, then taped a 3″ x 6.5″ rectangle of blue cellophane inside. Use a paper clip and the wand to make the fountain water rise!

magnet castle fountainIn the garden next to the fountain was a buried treasure trap door:

magnet buried treaure And on the other side of the fountain is an apple tree with flying bird. We tethered the bird to the tree with clear elastic beading cord, but any string will do:

magnet bird flying over treeAt this point, you might be wondering…where is the UNICORN? The book is all about an adventure with a unicorn! Well fear not. We scored these awesome unicorn Valentines by Peaceable Kingdom (a set of 28 cards cost $13-15). Each card comes with a little rainbow charm:

unicorn valentines by peaceable kingdomWhen kids were finished with their castles, DR. MAGICAL PURPLE UNICORN bestowed cards and rainbow charms!

dr dana is a magical unicornAnd yes, that unicorn onesie does feel just as comfortable as it looks.