By: Don Mock email@example.com
John Mocko always knew he didn’t want a desk job. In 1985, as a UF undergraduate majoring in physics education, he designed his own Independent Study course in physics demonstrations. After graduation he spent four years teaching AP and honors physics at Gainesville’s Eastside High School. At training workshops held at UF each summer, he was more likely to be helping to demonstrate the demos than to be passively watching. So when the Physics Department’s staff position of Teaching Laboratory Specialist became vacant in 1990, John was a logical and already well-known candidate. He became the Demo King.
John is the guy behind the scenes who manages to switch out the demos (i.e., disassemble one, set up another) for the department’s two large lecture halls in 15 minutes or less. Now repeat that six times a day, five days a week. Between 1990 and 2004, he took the physics demos on the road, wowing high school and middle school students around the state with the wonders of physics, and probably developing a few new undergraduate prospects for UF in the process. It is estimated that John has presented variations on the department’s “Physics is Phun” show to over 50,000 delighted kids of all ages.
John is always researching, acquiring, or constructing new physics demos for the classroom and for public display. An example is the harmonic pendulum recently unveiled in the physics building’s entrance lobby. A beautiful work of art, as well as being instructive in musical harmonics, the demo’s undulating waves of steel balls go through a cycle from coherence to seeming chaos and back to coherence again (Video). The real beauty of a good physics demo is that it gets the viewer to think about the “how” and the “why”, namely the science behind the cool effect.
An even bigger project is John’s development of an enhanced “light board” for use by the faculty to develop on-line course content. A light board is a large glass panel that you stand behind and write upon like a whiteboard. The writing and the presenter stand out from a dark background due to lighting from the sides. A camera reverses the image, so the viewer can read the writing normally. Initially developed at Northwestern University, John has extended the concept to add multiple camera/computer inputs and even a green screen capability. A presenter can appear inside of and interact with their PowerPoint sides, pre-recorded videos, or live experiments. Several UF departments are now making use of these capabilities for both their in-classroom and distance-learning requirements.
Every science department needs someone like John, and UF Physics is lucky to have him. For over 25 years, if it whirled, zapped, collided, vibrated, swung, lit-up, or went “pop”, he has been eager to show it off to audiences large and small, young or old. For someone who didn’t want a desk job, John rarely has the time to sit down, and he likes it that way.