science-off-the-earth

Donald Pettit is a chemical engineer, NASA astronaut, and one of the few individuals in the world with a Wikipedia page that lists his status as “Currently in space.”

Pettit is also the guy from that NASA-endorsed spot for Angry Birds Space, in which he explains trajectories and the gravitational pull bodies can have on slingshot-propelled flying vertebrates with attitudes and egg-lovin’ pigs. And now he’s the dude from an original infotaining web series from Physics Central (a website with a mission to disseminate the “excitement and importance of physics” to the masses brought to you by the American Physical Society) called Science Off the Sphere.

The “Sphere” in that title refers to the Earth and the “Off” is meant to mean “outside the boundaries of Earth’s gravitational field.” So, as the name would imply, Pettit, who is currently on board the International Space Station, explores and presents “fantastic physics that can only be demonstrated in micro-gravity.”

Don’t let the fact Pettit has a Ph.D., that he’s comfortable talking about hardcore scientific concepts, or that a few of the program’s videos have viewcounts in the three or four-figures lead you to click away. Pettit’s demonstrations bring to life the things of which special effects in sci-fi films and David Lynch music videos are made. The episodes depict Pettit performing acts like cutting off the sleeves on his shirt to fashion a didgeridoo out of a space station vacuum cleaner (which he’s excellent at playing) to show the effects of sound waves on water droplets, fashioniong the zero-gravity equivalent of a lava lamp out of laptop speakers cornstarch (which is a non-Newtonian fluid), and many other things literally out of this world and visually appealing.

I haven’t wanted to be an astronaut since kindergarten, but Pettit’s videos may have me questioning my career choice. If you feel the same way, you can tune into the whole collection of Science Off the Sphere on Physics Central’s YouTube channel.

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