Although the world of viral videos may appear to be a bleak wasteland of mind-numbing yet mildly amusing videos, viewers of sites like YouTube and Reddit are more interested in academic subjects, like physics, than one would think. Especially when physics is presented in a innovative, clear, and engaging way, like LGHS physics teacher Dan Burns did in his viral video, Gravity Visualized. In this simulation, he explained the causes and effects of gravity using only a sheet of spandex and a few weights.
Burns first viewed this visualization when he saw a presentation called NASA Gravity Probe B Mission, by Shannon Range. When a student came to him looking for an idea for a physics project, Burns gave him photos of Range’s demonstration and suggested that the student replicate it. The student made the set seen in the video and gave the set to Burns, who has used it since then in his yearly demonstration for his physics classes.
“I’m not one hundred percent sure what I came up with and what I saw [in Range’s presentation], but there’s about a half dozen different demonstrations in it and about half of them I came up with. The one where there’s a big marble and a little marble that orbits it just happened in a demonstration by accident,” says Burns. He also added in the figure eight orbit after seeing a similar looking display at a science museum and realizing that he could use that concept in his own presentation.
Since Steve Hammack, the LGHS biology and physics teacher who filmed the video, put this video on his YouTube channel two years ago, it has received 1.3 million views. Its popularity began when it reached the front page of Reddit on Monday, Dec. 2, ranking number one as the most popular post on the heavily used forum.
“I didn’t even know about it until I was about ready to leave for school. My son came up to me with his phone and said ‘Did you know you’re on the front page of Reddit right now?” I knew what Reddit was, but I didn’t really know what a big deal it was,” said Burns.
After Reddit the Huffington Post followed, posting the video on its website and writing an article about its recent popularity and Burns’s strikingly clear explanation. A woman from BBC then contacted Burns inquiring about how to recreate the display for a television show on the network, and he guided her through the process via emailed instructions. Although the video wasn’t exceedingly popular until recently, Burns has been contacted by both local and international teachers who want to do the same demonstration for their students.
“The whole popularity thing has been kind of distracting, but it was a good thing. A lot of people are learning a lot. It’s an area in science a lot of physics classes in high schools don’t teach, and that’s why I show this,” says Burns.
For more on Burns’ demonstration, view the video either on the Huffington Post or Mr. Hammack’s YouTube channel.