How does the human cannonball hit his mark?
Why, physics, of course.
In fact, virtually every aspect of a circus performance relies on math and physics. And that’s inspired a fun new way for Circus Sarasota and the Circus Arts Conservatory to teach those subjects to Sarasota students—through a grand-scale, Rube Goldberg-inspired performance called the Marvelous Miraculous Circus Machine, funded by a grant from the American Honda Foundation.
Led by clowns Karen Bell and Robin Eurich, 70 Sarasota High School math, science and technology students devised a series of circus acts that could be linked together through cause and effect, relying on math and physics calculations to understand how to execute the action and then transfer its energy to the next performer. In the meantime, county fifth graders were given dominoes, marbles and other toys to experiment with their own small-scale cause-and-effect “machines.”
This May, 1,400 fifth graders from 13 Sarasota elementary schools were on hand at the Sailor Circus Arena to see the students’ calculations come to life. First a tandem bicycle linked to a pulley delivered a coat to a high-wire walker, who strolled across the wire to the other end, knocking a piece of cheese down to another performer in a giant hamster ball. After a number of other actions and reactions, a human cannonball performer was launched 90 feet across the arena to a safety pad—demonstrating just how important math and physics are to the spectacular feat. (To get technical, force = mass X acceleration, executed at the proper angle and accounting for the influence of gravity [-9.8 m/s/s] on the human cannonball’s trajectory.)
“Raise your hand if you’ve ever made a mistake in math,” Eurich likes to tell the students. “The human cannonball can’t afford to do that.”
Next year, the circus hopes to expand the program into Manatee County. “We’re clowns,” says Bell. “Cause and effect is everything to us.”