Each October the physics teachers at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois treat their students and the public to a haunted science laboratory. Visitors learn science while having fun as they are confronted with a maze of displays that demonstrate optical, acoustical, mechanical, electrical, and perceptual phenomena in the context of Halloween. Scientists and non-scientists alike become engaged in trying to understand the science behind the fun.
As strange as it may seem, science and Halloween do have something in common: they both exemplify our innate fascination with the mysterious. The concept of a haunted science lab was conceived of over twenty years ago by Creighton University physics professor Tom Zepf. It began as a collection of activities in Light, Color and Lasers, a core-curriculum course he was teaching at Creighton. Gradually the annual Halloween event evolved into laboratory-based experience consisting of over three dozen displays demonstrating a wide range of physical principles, all of which invite interaction.
In the last few years, the concept of integrating science with fright has spread to other educational institutions (e.g., New Trier High School and Deerfield High School, both in Illinois, and Luther College in Iowa). In the process, displays illustrating perceptual concepts have become a part of the annual exhibitions. Like light and color, visual perception lends itself extremely well to the Halloween theme. The inclusion of psychological and physiological phenomena has made the haunted lab relevant to students of psychology and biology while demonstrating connections between the sciences.
We now offer some examples of favorite haunted lab exhibits. The beauty of these displays is that they are based on apparatus found in most science storerooms. With slight modification, many devices commonly used in the traditional science laboratory may be transformed into something spooky.