Physics is fun, and Dr. Raymond Hall, a professor of Physics at California State University-Fresno, wants people to know it. Hall, who has worked on particle accelerators and helped discover the fundamental particle known as the top quark, curates an Instagram page called @physicsfun, where he demonstrates and explains "scientific curiosities" that he has amassed over the last couple of decades. Much like Joey Shanks's physics-defying experiments, Hall showcases animated holograms, laser-scattering glass, and levitating objects, amongst other types of stunning and often beautiful science art.
Hall started collecting these "physics toys," as he also calls them, while a graduate student. Shortly thereafter, he began teaching at the university level, quickly realizing that the collection could be quite useful in teaching courses that have, over the years, included engineering physics, quantum mechanics, particle physics, critical thinking, and the philosophy of science. For him, it was a way to engage curiosity and visualize concepts that challenge existing preconceptions.
"Posting on Instagram seemed a natural extension of this mission, and a means to document the many amazing items in my collection," Hall tells Creators. "The short video format of Instagram is ideal for such documentation given the kinetic aspect of most of these curiosities."
The first video that really determined Physics Toys' current theme and format was one on a Tippy-Top, a famous toy with many scientific papers published about it. When spun on a semi-flat surface, this mushroom-shaped top inverts but also changes direction as it leaps onto its stem. As Hall says of the Tippy-Top, "No physicist can resist the allure of this physics toy."
"[But] my favorite object in my collection is a levitating magnetic top that goes by the brand name Levitron," says Hall. As the name hints at, the Levitron is a levitating top that harnesses spin-stabilized magnetic levitation. The top features a magnetic ring, while the base is also equipped with magnetic ring. When spun, the top rotates in mid-air as if defying physics.
"This device has everything that I love about physics: foremost is that it defies our expectations of reality, yet how it works is well described by the laws of physics that I teach at the university level," he says. "In addition, the aesthetic nature of the woodwork and design makes this device a work of art as well as significant scientific curiosity."
Hall says that a main theme in his videos is "visualizing the invisible." For this reason, he finds the symmetrical aspects of magnetic field lines incredibly appealing visually, a phenomenon that can be seen in the video Magnetic Fluid Patterns, which features ferrofluids moving in intricate and beautiful patterns.
"The ferrofluid is constrained by magnetic field lines as well as the physics of surface tension in fluids," Hall explains. "The interplay of these two aspects of physics is what brings about the beautiful patterns, especially when in motion."
Hall's @physicsfun videos clearly fascinate a large number of people. Some may be there for the science, others for the visual dynamics, or both—either way, with Hall's videos and descriptions of the toys and curiosities, viewers are learning something about the world in a very short amount of time.
"A fantastic benefit of my following on Instagram is that some have sent me new toys and inventions, most of which make it onto my feed," says Hall. "However, I've been collecting for years, and my sources range from teachersource.com, to eBay, and even garage sales—as with most collecting hobbies, it's the thrill of the hunt it seems."
"My goal is to share the wonder of science and I'm thrilled that so many have followed me for a daily post on physics and other curiosities of nature and design," he adds. "Many of these objects are inexpensive and provide a wonderful learning opportunity, so I try to promote where to obtain the amazing items I feature in my posts. I do have a couple physics toys in development and I hope to share them in the coming months."
Click here to see more of Dr. Ray Hall's @physicsfun videos.