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© Allison Usavage

Physics Bus

The Physics Bus cultivates excitement, interest, and creativity in physics through hands-on exhibits for kids of all ages. Hop on board!

A Q&A with Erik Herman, founder of the Physics Bus.

© Allison Usavage
What is the Physics Bus?

The Physics Bus is a bus that’s in Ithaca to bring exhibits around to kids and the public.

Who is it good for?

The Physics Bus is good for everybody. It’s especially attractive to kids for whom adventure is still rich in their lives, but I think really good for adults too, to remind them of that adventure.

What change are you trying to make?

The change that I’m trying to make with the Physics Bus is that life can be adventuresome and fun and through that we can learn all the things we need to learn. Through positive experiences that enrich our lives, we become better people and inspired people. And when that inspiration has a content like physics, it might just inspire you to pursue physics in your life. I hope that it does because it’s something that isn’t just for school and it’s not just for people that want to pursue the sciences. It’s actually for everybody. It’s learning to interact with all the stuff around you and observe it and work with it and learn to do the dance.

What brought you here?

I didn’t come here on a bus, but I had started a physics bus with two other colleagues out in Tucson, Arizona over 10 years ago. When I had been doing the Physics Bus in Tucson, it wasn’t a job, it didn’t pay any money, it definitely enriched my soul and got me up in the morning, but I had a day job. I was really psyched to get my dream job at Cornell at the accelerator lab to do science outreach. “Wow, I can get paid to do what I love!”

But yes, four years later, here it is now, there’s something missing. Even though I have my dream job and I want to keep my dream job, a bus just makes Ithaca a little better. All the pieces fell together really quickly. There was a lot of support, not only monetary with the IndieGoGo campaign and also getting a donated bus, but just this buzz of activity. A lot of people just caught the fever.

How does this impact our community?

It’s something that has started up from very little and there’s not a lot of monetary value there, but as a community grassroots effort it runs off of people power. Especially kid power. The kid in me is what makes the bus happen, and actual kids are what make the exhibits happen. What it does for the community is showcase what it is in the community that makes things awesome.

© Allison Usavage
© Allison Usavage
What struggles have you encountered?

The same thing that gives the bus soul, what has made it come alive, is the thing that makes it vulnerable. There’s a lot of risk involved. It’s not immune to failure. It could quite literally break down at any moment! And I don’t expect it to be very competitive in the business world because it’s not about making money. Having a Physics Bus is kinda like having a kid, which doesn’t exactly make economic sense either. You know you want one, it brings light into your life, but there are definitely going to be unknowns. There is no clear road map for a physics bus… how ironic. But on the other hand, being too careful, planning out every step based on what’s been done before, the best you can ever hope for is… well, to get what’s been done before.

What inspires you or what should we be celebrating?

What inspires me is people that I’ve known in my life who have pursued their passion. It’s so obvious to see it in their eyes and it’s so obvious when you see that they make others shine for what they do. That’s what inspires me.
What we should be celebrating? All that we can do when we realize what we have before us. And that’s not only the things we have before us, but the people we have before us.

© Allison Usavage
How can we participate?

One way that the community is going to participate whether it chooses to or not, is that the bus is here to stay. Aside from coming aboard the bus and checking stuff out and enjoying all that it has to offer, like the bus on Facebook, follow on Twitter… but also beyond just those more tangible things, look around at the bigger picture and see the things that you have in your life that you’re not using to their fullest and claim ownership of those things and be creative with those things.


Visit the bus and (the infamous flametube) on Halloween from 6-8pm at 222 Utica St, at the SW corner of Yates and Utica. And, check out this video about the Physics Bus by Erik.


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