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Graduate students spark public interest in electricity

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Daryl Lovell

In low light, Josue San Emeterio holds a fluorescent bulb in his hand – no wires – near a Slayer Exciter, which fires up fluorescent gas to light up. From left, graduate students Eve Vavagiakis, Jennifer Chu, Derek Crenshaw, Robin Bjorkquist, William Li, Dekwan Perry (a high school freshman) and grad student Howie Joress.

Josue San Emeterio – a doctoral student in physics – is part magician, a wedge of wizard and fraction of illusionist. At the Science Cabaret Nov. 14 at Ithaca’s Coltivare restaurant, he held a packed room rapt for one hour.

San Emeterio and a merry band of graduate student physicists – thanks to the Cornell educational outreach group XRaise – demonstrated electricity with Van de Graaf generators that allowed people to see sparks, a Tesla coil attached to a musical keyboard that played notes with electricity and a Helmholtz coil to demonstrate magnetism. There was a salad bowl accelerator, a Faraday cage and a ring launcher.

During a magnetism and light demonstration, a teen in the audience noticed the fluorescent bulb dimmed when held far from the magnetic source. San Emeterio quipped: “One over r-squared catches up with you very quickly.”

The physicist enjoys bringing science to a broad audience. “I think it is a wonderful and unique opportunity to be able to engage the community and get them interested in science or at least get them to appreciate science,” said San Emeterio. “It was great seeing people of all ages be interested in the topic and wanting to learn more.”

- Blaine Friedlander


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Blaine Friedlander