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20,000 bouncy balls falling from the sky? Just part of Geek Week at USU

March 20th, 2011 Posted in Opinion

Story and photo by Kate Rouse

LOGAN — Utah State University may have broken a world record Thursday, or it may have just shown thousands of onlookers that being a geek is cool, especially when it involves 20,000 bouncy balls and a helicopter. The northwest parking lot of USU’s Romney Stadium was packed with people as 20,000 bouncy balls were dropped from a helicopter onto the parking lot at approximately 4:30 p.m., in an attempt to break a world record.

“So last year, Mike Stewart and I came up with this crazy idea, to drop a ton of bouncy balls, set a world record and have some physics fun with it,” Society of Physics Students event coordinator Doug Ball said. The previous world record for the most balls dropped simultaneously, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, was 10,000.

Other than setting a record, the drop was intended to show the effects of charged particles on spacecraft. “You get charged particles that get accelerated against spacecraft, like satellite systems, and they bombard against it,” Ball said. “(The drop was) just a good analogy of a multi-particle system.”

Ball said the drop was a chance to raise awareness and support for the physics program at USU and the Society of Physics Students, but was also “just for fun.”

“The amount of energy that those balls had, (with) about 450 pounds in total weight, it actually hit the ground at about 60 miles an hour, just from 100 feet,” Ball said. “That could power your CFL energy-efficient light bulbs for over an hour.”

As the community gathered to watch the event, Ball encouraged the crowd to cheer and started a countdown as the helicopter hovered over a wide section of parking lot blocked off by caution tape. As all 20,000 bouncy balls were dumped in a steady stream, the blocked-off portion of parking lot was filled with a seething mass of ricocheting bouncy balls, reverberating as high as 15 feet in the air. After the drop, crowd members ducked under the caution tape to collect the wildly bouncing balls.

“It was kind of hard to see from behind all the people,” said USU biology major Matt Condie. “But yeah, I thought it was really awesome.”

The helicopter drop was part of Geek Week, a week of events sponsored by the Society of Physics Students, which included pie for Pi-day, Halo in the Hub, and a fiery physics demo Wednesday night.

“This is how we be geeks,” Ball said.


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