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Cara J. Hayden

Jay Leno and David Willey (Photo by Paul Drinkwater, courtesy NBC Universal, all rights reserved.)

Mad Scientist

Jay Leno gets eggs to go

“It can’t be done!” The Tonight Show host Jay Leno exclaims in a British accent as he jumps backwards and raises his eyebrows at two glass jars and ostrich eggs on the stage.

“It can,” insists David Willey, an instructor of physics at Pitt-Johnstown since 1975. A trace of a British accent can be heard in the voice of this United Kingdom native who is wearing a blue lab coat and wild necktie.

“You can’t push an egg through a jar,” Leno says in a thick British style. He picks up one of the ostrich eggs and attempts to squeeze it through the small, open top of the nearest jar. No way.

Cameras, lights, and the studio crowd are focused on Willey and Leno, who stand in front of the show’s Los Angeles skyline backdrop and a portrait of white-wigged Daniel Bernoulli, an 18th-century scientist who studied air pressure. Willey has appeared 16 times since 1998 as the “mad scientist” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. His demonstrations on the popular late-night program have led to similar appearances on the Discovery Channel and television shows in England, Lebanon, and Korea.

To Willey, the TV shows are classrooms with millions of students. That means millions of learners to a teacher who’s passionate about giving people an appreciation for, and curiosity about, science. That’s why he also appears at science shows and conventions whenever he can. His demonstrations, like the one he’s performing tonight, are similar to the experiments he uses in physics labs and classes at Pitt to teach and enthuse his students about science.

On stage, Leno and Willey ignite scraps of newspaper and drop the flaming pieces into the jars. They balance the cream-colored eggs on the rims and wait for the reaction to begin, as the fire consumes the oxygen in the jars.

“You hear the air come out and it...klooof!” Willey says as the eggs tumble into the jars and the audience oohs and claps.

“Now, what, is it sucking it in?” Leno asks about the experiment.

“No, no,” Willey says, shaking his head. “Science never sucks.”

The audience laughs, and Leno smirks and nods his head.

“That was air pressure pushing that in there,” Willey explains, citing the constant pressure of the atmosphere on the Earth’s surface. The fire removed the air inside the jars, eliminating the inside air pressure and leaving no counter-force against the air pressure outside the jars.

“So, it was pushing from the outside?” Leno asks.

“Yeah, 15 pounds. Per. Square. Inch,” Willey emphasizes to Leno and the viewers. “I mean that’s a huge pressure! So, the eggs stood no chance of not going in there.”

“Wow,” says Leno. “That’s pretty good.”

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