Virginia Tech - Invent the Future

About Outreach

The Outreach Program was started in 1995 by Dr. Lay Nam Chang. Its original purpose was to mentor students at Floyd County High School. As more local schools became interested, the program expanded to become an independent study class with 15 to twenty undergrads participating in it. Thanks to Alma Robinson, in the program was put on the Virginia Tech course catalog, and expanded to two classes, General Outreach, and Enriched Outreach.

General Outreach

General outreach is for students who want to learn by teaching. Each student in the class is sent on about four trips to local K-12 schools to show fun physics demos and teach the principles behind them. Each visit typically lasts about one hour not including set up or take down, and is borken into four subjects, Mechanics, Pressure and Heat, Waves and Light, and Electricity and Magnetism. To learn more about the demonstrations done go to Projects and Demos.

Enriched Outreach (Spring only)

Enriched Outreach is for students who want to learn how to teach. Teachers request specific subjects to be covered, and the students Enriched Outreach will create a lesson plan to teach that subject. These visit will use some of the same demonstrations as General Outreach but will also frequently create whole new demonstrations, or even mini labs. Due to the specific nature of visits from Enriched Outreach, more communication between the requesting teacher and the instructor of the course, Alma Robinson, is necessary .

Who We Are

John Simonetti

John Simonetti is Associate Chair of the Department of Physics. His main duty as Associate Chair is to oversee the Teaching and Learning in the Department. He received his B.S. in Physics, and Earth and Space Sciences from The State University of New York at Stony Brook, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Astronomy and Space Sciences from Cornell University. He is the recipient of the Dr. Carroll B. Shannon Certificate of Teaching Excellence, and the Science Award for Outreach Excellence, both from the College of Science at Virginia Tech, and the William E. Wine Award for Excellence in Teaching, from Virginia Tech.

Professor John Simonetti giving a talk

Henry Hilgendorf

Henry is the Lab and Demonstration Manager for the Educational Labs in the Physics Department at Virginia Tech. He coordinates all Outreach trips, and maintains the equipment used. To schedule a visit from outreach, email Henry at


Henry is from the area served by Outreach, and attended Woodrow Wilson Middle School Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke City. He graduated from The Physics Department at Virginia Tech in 2011. While an undergrad, Henry accumulated 8 credit hours of time in the Outreach class. He is currently working on his Masters in Education.

Henry demoing the atmospheric canon demonstration

Alma Robinson

Alma Robinson is a VT alumna and the PhysTEC Teacher in Residence and Instructor. PhysTEC is a national program to improve and promote the education of future physics teachers. Through PhysTEC, the VT reformed its Introductory Physics course to be taught using the SCALE-UP pedagogy and integrated undergraduate Learning Assistants (LAs) in both introductory and upper-level physics courses. Robinson teaches the SCALE-UP introductory physics sequence and the FYE course for Physics majors. She also teaches Physics Teaching and Learning, a pedagogy course focusing on putting physics education research into practice and Enriched Physics Outreach, a course where undergraduates design and execute a hands-on physics lessons for K-12 students. Before coming back to Blacksburg, she was a high school physics teacher at Wakefield High School in Arlington, VA.

Alma Robinson