Physics and Matchbox Cars

In the late 1970’s my father taught physics at Emory University. Occasionally he would take me to work with him on Saturday mornings and while he worked in his office, I would play with the physics department’s matchbox cars and race tracks. As a kindergartener I was amazed that they used toys to teach to college students. I was thrilled the first time my Dad opened a closet in one of the class rooms and I saw more bendable track and connecter pieces than I could have imagined. How could this possibly be used to teach science I thought? Surely they must be used for recess or an ‘after school’ program. Then my Dad explained it to me.

The cars and tracks were used to demonstrate the effects of what he called “G force”. If a car moved fast enough it would stay on the upside down looping track. If not it would fall off. The G forces kept the car on the track. The department bought enough track so each student could participate in the experiments. It took almost as long for you to read the last three lines as it did for him to explain the whole thing, and I got it. The term G force was new to me but I knew exactly what he was talking about. G forces were what made the difference between a good track and a great track. Now that “greatness” had a name and I told all my friends about G forces and the unbelievable amount of track they had in a physics room closet at Emory.

That was my first lesson in the power of creative teaching. Making connections between objects that came from completely different worlds, so clearly, that they tell the story themselves and the learner truly gets it and retains it.

The LN2 tank in the basement was fun too but that’s another story.