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USU physics group uses grant to develop laser product

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

Utah State University student Doug Ball arranges a few small mirrors, then turns on a laser, showing how the beam will bounce between them - a scene like something out of an Indiana Jones movie.

"It looks pretty cool," said Ball, making the green laser glow brighter with a blast from a fog maker.

The hypnotic demo is actually part of an educational science game recently developed by Ball and other members of USU's Society of Physics Students.

At the start of spring semester, the American Physical Society gave the group $4,600 to develop these Laser Mazes and purchase books on lasers for local libraries.

Over the months, they tried several prototypes, making up the rules as they went along.

"It was fun to figure it out," said Linsey Johnson, president of USU's SPS group. "We got to be creative."

The final product premiered Friday after a USU Science Unwrapped lecture celebrating the laser's invention 50 years ago.

Dozens of kids crowded around to learn the rules of the maze game and play for themselves.

To start, one player sets up a target and five blocks, trying to make a difficult path for the laser. The opponent uses mirrors to get around the obstacles and direct the beam to the target. Whoever uses the fewest blocks or mirrors is the winner.

"It's interesting," said 10-year-old Molly Duersch after playing with the game. "Science is one of my favorite things, and they make it fun."

In the fall, the SPS members will take the mazes to local schools to teach about the fundamentals of lasers. The group already gives presentations on a variety of physics concepts like Newton's laws and astronomy.

"I've loved it. It's fun to share what we know and make it entertaining," said Johnson, who added that they went to 20 classrooms this year and new requests are always coming in.

The lectures have generated a lot of positive feedback, according to David Peak, a USU physics professor who advises the SPS students.

"We're teaching contemporary science topics in a gentle way," he said. "The laser mazes will be great for that."

  • By Kim Burgess

  • May 6, 2010 Updated May 4, 2015

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