Physics and foam ball cat toys: one man’s foray in stop-motion edu-tainment

November 30, 2013

The not-so-secret life of one scientific copy editor

By Jenny Ryan

It was about 3 years ago that Robert began sending out video clips to all staff. We’d already had inkling that he was a quirky fellow with a passion for photography and amateur motorsports, among other things, but we were pleasantly surprised to discover that he also dabbles in stop-motion video and has a penchant for foam ball cat toys. Robert is a Scientific Publishing Editor here at CSP, he currently edits the Canadian Journal of Chemistry and previously the Canadian Journal of Physics.

Over the last few years Robert has created a series of Physics-based stop-motion films. The first two, Nonconservation of Momentum and Gravitational Collapse of a Foam Ball Cat Toy into a Black Hole, he claims “were supposed to be physics IN-jokes. Sadly, in focus group testing (I guess that was us?) not many people “got” the joke. In any case, all of the videos in his series contain a “germ of scientific truth, sort of...” says Robert, “each with tongue firmly planted in cheek.”

There are currently 44 in the series, found here, each of which took approximately 2-3 hours to produce. The shortest film Undetected Neutrino is 8 seconds long, whereas Wormhole Time Travel  is 35.

Pauli Exclusion Principle from Robert Roaldi on Vimeo.

When I confused time lapse with stop motion, Robert quickly explained that stop motion is a little like animation. In his case, he doesn’t draw the scene (he says he can’t draw), he uses a model and the easiest way for him to create a model is to go out and buy a bunch of foam ball cat toys.

Robert’s scientific inspiration originally came from his collection of Physics text books. He played on such  principles as ‘Tangled’ String Theory and Hooke’s Law but he finds that he’s now running out of concepts that can be easily demonstrated using foam balls on a table top.

A staff favourite is Higgs Beach Ball Particle in which “a highly energetic pair of oppositely charged foam ball cat toys collide to form the elusive but unstable Higgs Beach Ball.” Of those posted on Youtube, popular ‘hits’ include: Elastic Deformation in a Foam Ball Cat Toy Lattice; Capillary Action in Foam Ball Cat Toys.

“I’m a bit stumped about what to do next,” says Robert, “though I did begin to branch out into Chemistry with the Nanotube one.

If you’ve got a good idea for Robert’s next project, please leave a comment. And, if you get any of the In-Jokes, I’m sure he’d be delighted to hear from you.

The full collection can be viewed on Robert’s Vimeo channel in the album titled Physics:

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