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Science Journey presents: "Playing with Toys"

Friday, December 9, 2022
10:00am to 10:30am
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Zach Tobin, Physics Lecture Hall Manager, Caltech

Standing on a skateboard with a medicine ball in his hand, Zach Tobin asks what will happen if he throws the ball. He does so and proceeds to glide shakily in the opposition direction. "Equal and opposite forces, right?" he says. The scene might seem like something you would see on TikTok, but in fact is one of many physics demos that Tobin has catalogued as part of his job at Caltech. The demos cover many basic principles such as Newton's laws of motion, the relationship between electrical currents and magnetic fields, and the conductance of electricity by air. The demos also include props such as stuffed monkeys, lava lamps, and tubes of flames.

"Part of my job is playing with fun toys," he jokes. "But what I like about my work is the breadth of topics I get to cover, from electromagnetism to quantum mechanics, and more."

Tobin has been a physics lecture hall manager at Caltech since 2017. Half of the job involves managing the Feynman Lecture Hall, where introductory physics courses are taught. This includes maintaining the hall's equipment, scheduling, and other logistics. The other half of the job entails managing Caltech's collection of physics demos and related gadgetry, some of which date back nearly 130 years.

"The oldest experiment in the collection, called the Peltier-Seebeck device, is from 1895, before Caltech was even called Caltech," he says. The device is a thermoelectrical generator that couples the voltage in different objects to differences in temperature.

The collection includes more than 250 demos, more than 200 of which are catalogued on video and available online. Tobin notes he began to put even more demos on video due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shift to online learning.

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Series Cosponsor: Caltech Employees Federal Credit Union

For more information, please contact Caltech Ticket Office by phone at (626) 395-4652 or by email at [email protected] or visit

Event Series
Science Journeys
Event Sponsors
Caltech Institute Programs Committee
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