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APSU’s professional mad scientist Bryan Gaither performs for National Physics Association


Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – The Austin Peay State University (APSU) professional mad scientist, Bryan Gaither, had a national audience on Thursday, August 27th, 2020.

The Society of Physics Students (SPS) – a national professional association designed for college students – invited Gaither to host a virtual science demonstration for the group via Zoom.

Austin Peay State University professional mad scientist Bryan Gaither. (APSU)

Austin Peay State University professional mad scientist Bryan Gaither. (APSU)

You can watch a recording of the presentation, titled “Fire and Pressure,” here.

The demo was part of SPS’s Fall Virtual Colloquium Series.

Gaither – the lab manager for Austin Peay State University’s Department of Physics, Engineering and Astronomy – performed three demos over 30 minutes from the loading dock of the Sundquist Science Complex. 


  • In his first demonstration, he heated water inside a 55-gallon steel drum before capping the drum and dousing it in iced water. The sudden coldness condenses the steam inside back into water, shrinking the atmospheric pressure inside the barrel. The atmospheric pressure outside the drum overwhelms the steel barrel, crushing it instantly.
  • For his second demo, he used a homemade air pressure cannon to fire ping pong balls through a soda can and then a piece of plywood. Gaither sucks the air from the long pipe of the cannon, caps the device with mylar then punctures the mylar to allow outside air to rush back into the cannon. The rush of air is so intense that it pushes the balls up to 700 mph through the pipe, and the plastic balls pierce the can and plywood.
  • In his last demo, Gaither ignited 16 pounds of thermite atop a scrapped taxicab. The thermite – a mix of iron oxide rust and alumni powder that burns at 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit – turned molten and melted through the top and bottom of the cab.



To learn more 




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