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A Groovy Ambassador of Science

Photo by Mark Lee
On any given workday, you might find Marc Clayton troubleshooting wind tunnel operations at the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). The next morning he could be working the crowd in an elementary school auditorium--filling trash bags with hot air and floating them to the ceiling, flipping a Nerf boomerang, pouring liquid nitrogen into a beaker, or letting a screaming "balloon-copter" fly into the audience of equally screeching children.

Clayton, a mechanical engineer in APL's Avery Advanced Technology Development Lab, works part time at APL and part time on tour as APL's ambassador of science.

"I am essentially a cheerleader for math and science," Clayton says. "The whole gist of the program is to demonstrate to kids that everything around them could be completely and fully understood if their brains are trained in math and science to understand it."

The floating trash bag, for example, demonstrates how hot air rises, and the spinning Nerf boomerang? A demonstration of Bernoulli's effect and angular momentum, two of the critical elements of flight. Clayton brings his hourlong program, called "Marc's Groovy Science," to schools and community groups about once a week.

Clayton's show often seems more magic show than lecture-- with an essential difference. "Magic revels in creating mystery," he says. "And science revels in finding truth." --JCS

Return to April 2002 Table of Contents

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