By Alexis Timko
Firing smoke rings out of a trash can, smashing a concrete block on a professor’s chest and sticking blades through a box containing a woman were some of the tricks performed at Dr. Ray’s Amazing Sideshow of Science on Oct. 12.
Raymond Beiersdorfer, professor of geological and environmental science at Youngstown State University, presents the event annually. Beiersdorfer and his students perform tricks to teach the audience about scientific concepts.
The theme of the show was “Journey Through Earth’s Spheres.” His students Bruno Abersold, Joshua Adams, Erica Constance, Ryan Moon and Brigitte Petras participated in acts highlighting the earth’s spheres — atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and lithosphere — and some concepts from science and physics.
Constance, a student in Beiersdorfer’s mineralogy class, signed up to assist with the sideshow because she thought it would be a fun learning experience.
“He brought it up the first day of class and it seemed interesting,” Constance said. “Being able to interact and physically do everything along with the rest of the class makes the material a lot easier to remember.”
Beiersdorfer said teaching science this way makes people want to learn more. The show was created to be entertaining but educational.
“This was an outgrowth of something they used to do at the planetarium called ‘Science Wizards’,” Beiersdorfer said. “I used to volunteer with that, and then it morphed into Dr. Ray’s Amazing Sideshow of Science.”
In one act, Beiersdorfer performed the classic zig-zag girl trick, where a performer named “Serpentine” crouched in a closed box as he slid blades into it. After a few moments, he opened the box to reveal the woman, who was unscathed.
The final act of the sideshow was called the Bed of Nails. Beiersdorfer laid on a bed constructed from 1,300 nails.
Before Beiersdorfer went on with the act, he explained to the audience how to determine the forces the nails would apply to him.
“I will apply about 173 pounds per square inch of force to each nail,” Beiersdorfer said. “It takes over 1,000 pounds per square inch to puncture human flesh.”
Constance was his assistant during this act. Once Beiersdorfer laid on the bed of nails, she placed a cinderblock on his chest and hit it with a sledge hammer. The cinderblock broke in half and Beiersdorfer jumped up, unharmed.
Petras, a student in Beiersdorfer’s mineralogy class, said the sideshow is an effective method of teaching science.
“Showing the spectacles of science really makes it attractive to audiences,” Petras said.
Garrett Mulrooney attended the event. He said he goes to the lectures on the environment that Beiersdorfer presents over the course of the semester, but this event was a more exciting way to teach people about science.
“It was goofy. I thought it got its message through,” he said. “It was smart and fun. [Beiersdorfer] is a great entertainer.”