April 24 is National Physics Day, so what better time to help your kids appreciate this fascinating branch of natural science? Physics is a scientific practice that seeks to understand the way the universe behaves by examining properties of matter and energy. So it’s a great way of explaining so many of the questions that your kids probably ask you.
These are just a few everyday wonders that physics explains:
- When you pump your basketball tire, the pump gets hot
- Rainbows appear along with rain
- Balloons stick to walls after being rubbed on hair or clothing
- When you fill a bottle with water, the sound changes as the water level gets higher
What’s So Great About It? Ask the Greats
Today, Gravity is an accepted scientific principle, but that wasn’t always the case. Sir Issac Newton, one of the most iconic figures in physics, described observing an apple falling from a tree, which eventually led him to formulate his law of Universal Gravitation in the 1680s. No slouch, he also developed Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, which were enormously groundbreaking in understanding the motion of objects.
The GPS in your phone or family car works thanks in part to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, which shows that even though some factors are constant, space and time affect how different viewers see the same phenomena. A helpful demonstration of his discoveries can be seen in this animation.
The existence of X-rays owes a lot to the work of two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie, who discovered radiation.
And physics is fun to imagine, too. Richard Feynman, another famous physicist of the 20th century, explains why in this video.
Do you know what else is inarguably fun? Lasers! In 2018, Professor Donna Strickland won the Nobel Prize in Physics for her work on high-intensity laser pulses, which helped pave the way for uses like Lasik eye surgery. “It was just a fun thing to do, and so I put many hours into it,” she said.
See it IRL
Here are some activities your kids can do at home to observe physics in action, starting with making a self-propelled car out of rubber bands and plastic bottles you already have in your house. Will the cars they build beat the Guinness World Record for going the farthest distance of any rubber band vehicle? Let’s find out!
Rubber Band Cars