The hullabaloo is audible in the room reserved for the activities of NFIST – Núcleo de Física do Instituto Superior Técnico, the Physics Student Group. After a few experiments that were more or less appreciated by the group taking part in ULisboa’s summer activities, the focus is now on a huge and strange object standing in a corner of the room.
Only the monitors know what it is – an electrostatic Van de Graaff generator – and curiosity prevails among the young crowd until the following question is heard: “Who wants to get an electric shock?” Suddenly, the buzz is replaced by excited laughs and, for about 20 minutes, one experiment occurs after the other making the event a huge success. Along the way, the participants learned some more about mechanics, electromagnetism, optics and thermodynamics.
NFIST’s participation in Summer at ULisboa – a holiday program organized by Universidade de Lisboa during which elementary and secondary school students have the opportunity to see how people work in various professional fields – is just the tip of the iceberg for this very active student group, and according to its vice president Rita Costa, it manages to “offer things that appeal to everyone”.
Divided into five operational areas – Pulsar (a popular science magazine), Info (IT support), Recreativa (organization of gatherings and tournaments), Astro (astronomical dissemination and observations) and Circus (science dissemination activities for the general public) – the NFIST is one of the student groups at Técnico with the largest number of activities throughout the year. It hosts about 2000 high school students every year, organizes astronomical observations, visits schools… “Our purpose is clear. We want to promote science in general and physics in particular”, explains Rita Costa, before adding, “Obviously, we also want to show people that physics is nothing to be afraid of, we want them to share in our interest and possibly make some of the participants join our department.”
The most dynamic section is the Circus: “Throughout the year there are always schools contacting us and asking for visits and demonstrations. Furthermore, we organize the Physics Week [for students from elementary schools and high schools], in which the Circus is the main activity, and we also host other activities for the general public”, says the engineering physics 3rd year student. To keep it that way, the NFIST depends on the constant addition of new members, which are “recruited” in and outside the department. “As long as they are interested, we welcome students from all departments. The experiments we do are not very complicated and there is nothing that any student can’t do with a bit of explanation.”
For Rita Costa, being part of the NFIST is “the best way to make sure that there is a lot of fun”, of the good kind, in the lives of Técnico students. “I think that all the students at Técnico feel that the courses are very demanding and that they must do a lot of hard work. It is very important to do something besides that, and we offer many things to do here. If someone really enjoys programming or making websites, we have Info; if a person is very sociable and wants to organize gatherings and games, we have Recreativa; if someone wants to dust off their knowledge of the Portuguese language, they can go to Pulsar; if you’re very fond of looking at the stars, you have Astro; if you like to clown around, you have Circus”, she says.