Science usually falls far from the theater, but physics support specialist David Maiullo of Rutgers University found a way to turn physics experiments into an off-Broadway hit called “That Physics Show.”
This past weekend, Lehigh brought Maiullo to campus for multiple showings of “The Physics Experience,” inspired by “That Physics Show,” at Zoellner Arts Center. The 90-minute performance consisted of theatrical physics demonstrations and experiments.
Maiullo was hired by Rutgers University in 1987 as a physics specialist and oversaw demonstrations for undergraduate courses. The job led him to begin performing demonstration shows in public libraries, senior centers and street fairs. Eventually, it grew to the big stage when he signed a contract with a producer in 2015.
The show’s success can be attributed to Maiullo’s high energy and exciting personality. At Lehigh, Maiullo kept the audience engaged throughout all 90 minutes.
Bryce Cavey, ’21, attended one of the afternoon shows on Saturday and found it extremely interesting. Although the show was targeted more toward younger children, “The Physics Experience” taught Cavey about introductory physics concepts, such as angular momentum.
“I think it’s a really good introduction to physics,” Cavey said. “There are definitely key points he made to misconceptions that kids have growing up that hinders the ability to learn physics. I think there was definitely that stuff hidden in there.”
Maiullo performs five to six shows a week and still works at Rutgers. “That Physics Show” has gained success in New York City since he began the off-Broadway show in 2015.
After receiving the Drama Desk Award for “most unique theatrical presentation” and a positive review from The New York Times, “That Physics Show” attracted international interest in countries like China and Spain. Maiullo has also appeared on the Discovery Channel, the Weather Channel, the Science Channel and National Geographic.
The physics department at Lehigh was happy to host Maiullo. Prior to the Maiullo’s shows at Zoellner, physics professor Jerome Licini invited Maiullo to conduct a colloquium, where he explained the show’s history and production.
Though it is commonly mistaken for a children’s show, Maiullo said many adults leave the show just as intrigued as the children. Licini was impressed by how Maiullo presented physics in such an interesting way.
“He did some demos that I do in class, but I like the way he did them better,” Licini said. “In the colloquium, he talked about how they worked on the show for months and months to make sure the presentation was as dramatic and clear as possible, and that really showed up.”
Licini is now inspired to change his class demonstrations to emulate the acts Maiullo performs on stage.
Maiullo uses everyday objects in his demonstrations to keep his audience engaged. His goal is to show his audience that everyone is a scientist by incorporating objects anyone can find in their homes.
“It’s kind of fun to show people that they really are scientists,” Maiullo said. “Whether they’re cashiers or bank tellers or they’re working as whatever, they’re still scientists. So it’s a fun way of showing that that’s an inherent (part) of being a human being and I really enjoy that.”
Maiullo uses mundane objects like sponges, hammers and fire extinguishers for his demonstrations. The combination of entertainment, education and performance is what Maiullo enjoys the most.
“The way we do the show brings all of these factors out, and I like educating people,” Maiullo said. “It’s one of the best things. I get up in the morning and I smile because I’m happy to be doing my job.”