Physics for Kids

01 July 2006
About this time of year, kids are going on school breaks or holidays around the world. Pique your child's or grandchild's interest in science (or keep him or her from taking apart another clock as the case may be) with the help of these websites for kids on optics, physics, and engineering.
Top Notch Pick

This is a highly recommended site for all ages of kids and teens. Adults might just find themselves reading for hours, too. Dozens of experiments and an amazing amount of interesting information exploring many areas of science make this a site to bookmark. Especially interesting for teens is the Origins part of the site, which provides a huge amount of interactive information on the CERN, Hubble, Antarctica, Las Cuevas, Cold Spring, and Arecibo programs and efforts. The site is run by the Museum of Science, Art, and Human Perception, located in San Francisco, CA.

Sites for Ages 5 through 13
The website for an American television show of the same name, the site has science experiments, recipes, games, jokes, poems, and volunteer ideas, all sent in by viewers, offering a wealth of activities for kids ages 5 to 11 to do by themselves, with friends, or with parents.
Powered by the Optical Society of America (OSA), the site provides experiments and games for kids ages 5 through 10.
The aptly named site is chock full of interactive online games for 9- to 11-year-olds, based on the UK national curriculum, and developed by the University of Cambridge Department of Engineering.
Nicely designed, fun online activities for kids ages 9 through 11 are available in the site's "Invention Playhouse," along with stories about current and past inventors. Especially fun is the Tinker Ball "game" where kids can virtually assemble a Rube Goldberg-like contraption. The site is hosted by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
An interactive site run by shows kids ages 9 through 11 how physics are a part of our everyday lives, with links to related subjects.
NASA has an extensive offering of activities, games, and learning for all ages, but especially ages 7 through 13. The site is naturally focused on outer space and NASA missions.
The site provides links to many kids' sites about engineering, and games and activities for 7- to 13-year-olds.
Sites for Ages 13 through 18
A separate OSA site for teenage students. The site includes information about optics, cool careers, experiments, and resources.
Though the site is called the K12 center, it is aimed mostly at teens who are exploring engineering fields as possible careers. Some very good resources such as a college search database and K-12 Outreach Database are available on the site.
Do Try This at Home
A great book of experi-ments for kids is available from SPIE Press. Light Action! Amazing Experiments with Optics is an illustrated book of home experiments involving optics and light for kids age 11 and older. The 200-page book contains a bevy of activities, which include how to: Bend light around corners; "Stop time" with a pair of sunglasses; Magnify pictures with an ice cube; and project a big-screen image from your small TV.
Just $12 for members and $15 for non-members, you can order the volume here.
No Kids? No Problem.
If your kids are grown or you don't have kids of your own, here are a few ways to encourage the next generation of engineers and scientists.
Local Science Fairs
Many schools have their own science fairs, and are usually looking for volunteers from the science and engineering communities. Give a local school a call and find out if they could use your help.
Engineers Week
Engineers Week is held each February, but the event's site at has resources to help you begin your own community's Engineers Week outreach programs at any time. Engineers Week supports a variety of programs in conjunction with the event, including Introduce a Girl to Engineering, Discover"E," and the Future City Competition.
As part of the Discover"E" outreach program, you can visit local elementary, middle, and secondary schools and sponsor extracurricular activities, as well as work with community organizations to highlight engineering careers.
The Future City Competition offers engineers the opportunity to serve as volunteer mentors to help 12- and 13-year-olds in student teams design and build a future city, using SimCity software.
For more information on Engineers Week, visit their site at

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