College Professor, 69, Goes Viral for Zany Physics Demonstrations — Including Walking on Glass!
While many college professors stick to textbooks and PowerPoints to help students learn, one physics teacher in Virginia is going viral for bucking traditional methods and instead getting his students as involved as possible.
It’s not out of the ordinary to see 69-year-old Tidewater Community College professor David Wright, Ph.D lying on a bed of nails, walking on glass, or setting things on fire — all in the name of physics, his student Erica Church tells PEOPLE.
Church, 18, was instantly captivated by Wright’s near-daily zany lessons, and quickly started recording them with friend Kierra Brothers, 19, earlier this semester in their Elements of Physics class.
She eventually compiled the lessons and shared them in a now-viral Twitter thread that’s been viewed more than 22 million times.
“The first day he was walking on glass, and we both took out our phone immediately and started recording, and ever since then we just recorded every little cool experiment he would do at the school,” says Church.
Wright, who has been teaching at TCC since 1974, tells PEOPLE that his students have been filming his lessons for years now, capturing everything from him jumping on a pogo stick and making ice cream using liquid nitrogen, to a bowling ball-rolling inertia lesson and one on centrifugal force involving a spinning board and a cup of water.
Still, he’s never before had this many eyes watching.
“This is a class that’s millions!” he says of his new internet following. “That’s kind of cool to get the word out about physics. I’m just excited!”
Wright says he’s developed his unconventional teaching method over the years through things like conferences, physics journals, books and the internet — and that he’s as excited as ever to find new ways to connect with his students.
“It makes me happy. I think I can reach them a little easier, and teach them a little better, and it’ll be more memorable; they’ll remember these things for a long time to come,” he says. “To me, I can’t teach any other way now because I just think that’s who I am and what the students need me to do for them.”
For Brothers, who said she typically prefers PowerPoints, Wright’s methods have expanded her mind: “His class is just so fun. I didn’t even want to look at my notebook. It really changed my perspective on things, too, and made it a lot more interesting than just writing it down.”
Outside the classroom, Wright, who was named Tidewater’s professor of the year in 2017, is happily married to Donna, his wife of 46 years, and has four children and seven grandchildren, whom he says are all thrilled about his newfound fame.
“I think the key is that if I keep the course for like, 20 years in a row, I think it becomes very, very stale. I really love my students because they bring me energy,” he tells PEOPLE. “Every year I’ve got a new crop of students and they’re eager and bright-eyed and ready to go. They keep me going. I can’t disappoint them.”