The 5th annual Physics Pumpkin Drop, a Halloween ritual at the Colleges, will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday, October 31 on the Quad. The event is a reenactment of Galileo’s famous experiment at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Providing dramatic proof of the law of gravity, the power of the scientific method, and the revelry of Halloween, Assistant Professor of Physics Steven Penn and Physics technicians Richard Bolton and Jabob Podkaminer will drop pumpkins frozen in liquid nitrogen from the top of the Geneva Fire Department’s highest ladder truck.
For Penn, the Pumpkin Drop serves as a powerful teaching tool. The event not only validates Galileo’s observations, that objects fall at the same rate regardless of mass, but it celebrates that fact that even the most pervasive philosophies cannot stand if they do not meet the test of experimental verification.
“Galileo’s work came at a pivotal time in the history of science, and especially physics, when the basis of our world view began to shift from philosophical speculation to careful, scientific observations of the world,” Penn says. “His work marked a transformation in thinking. He was revolutionary.”
This year’s event has been moved to the Quad and to an earlier time to accommodate faculty, staff and parents who have been unable to attend the previous midnight shows.
Penn earned a Ph.D. in nuclear structure physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Washington, Penn joined the experimental gravitational physics group at Syracuse University. There he joined the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) project, a multi-university collaboration headed by Caltech and MIT that is endeavoring to unravel the secrets of gravity.