VIU Faculty Take Popular Extreme Science Show Online

Bed of nails physics experiment

A file photo of the famous bed of nails experiment.

April 12, 2021 - 12:30pm

Series of videos showcase daring and exciting physics and chemistry experiments to get youth interested in science.

A show that has been getting kids excited about science for more than a decade went virtual this year – and caught thousands of elementary school-aged children up in a challenge that saw 11 lucky classrooms win science supplies.

Every spring, Vancouver Island University (VIU) Physics Professor Ray Penner and his colleagues host Extreme Science, a show that combines physics and chemistry with entertainment in a series of awe-inspiring experiments. Searching for a way to continue the show during the pandemic, Penner teamed up with VIU’s Marketing and Advancement departments to put together a series of videos that could be shown in classrooms, with sponsors contributing enough money to buy science gear for 11 participating classrooms who submitted an answer to a riddle they were encouraged to solve.

“The uptake was so much bigger than we ever imagined – we had more than 4,700 students from 190 classrooms participating from the four school districts that feed into VIU campuses,” says Penner. “As the teachers were sending in answers, they were providing anecdotes about how much their students were enjoying the videos, and how the experiments were inspiring them to continue studying science.”

From breaking a concrete block on Penner while he lies on a bed of nails, to an explanation of chaos theory using a double pendulum, to using sound waves to break glass, to what happens when you decide to snack on a graham cracker dipped in liquid nitrogen, each video explains the science behind the experiments Penner and his team perform.

“My main goal is to show students that science is cool – it’s why a lot of us are in it,” says Penner, who also runs a charity called Science To All, which promotes science to elementary and secondary school students in Canada and Malawi, Africa. “I want to get them not only excited about science, but also inspired to think about careers as scientists.”

Each video included hidden letters to find and when students collected the letters from all 10, they were asked to unscramble the letters to reveal a quote from a famous scientist. Each elementary school class that unscrambled the quote correctly was entered into a draw to win $1,000 worth of science supplies, courtesy of VIU’s community partners: Coastal Community Credit Union and APEGBC, along with Herold Engineering, Lewkowich Engineering, SMCN Consulting, McElhanney, Tetra Tech, Rocky Point Engineering, RB Engineering and Kool & Child.

One of the lucky winners of the challenge is Sterling Jamont’s Grade 7 classroom at Bayview Elementary School in Nanaimo.

“It means we are going to get to do some really cool, hands-on science experiments – this is a real game changer for us,” she says. “We’re going to buy some supplies we can share amongst the intermediate grades. My class loved the videos – my students looked forward to watching them every day. The challenge was a good reminder to always stay curious.”

Penner says he received an outpouring of positive comments on the videos from participating elementary schools.

“Thank you so much for your efforts to put together these videos to inspire and generate curiosity within our classroom,” wrote Stacy Aitken, Vice-Principal of Departure Bay Eco School in Nanaimo. “The videos became a highlight of our day over the last two weeks.  It was fun having them try and create the quote. It became quite the competition to solve on the last day.”

Now that the elementary school challenge is finished, VIU has made the videos public on the Community Classroom website. Any members of the public who want to solve the riddle challenge from now until May 31 can email their answers to for the chance to win a VIU hoodie.

Check out all the videos on VIU’s Community Classroom.



Jenn McGarrigle, External Communications Advisor, Vancouver Island University

C: 250.619.6860 | E: | T: @VIUNews

Tags: Chemistry | Community Engagement | Physics | Teaching and Learning

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