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Harold Daw Inventor of the Air Table!

D.r Harold Daw
In the late 1950’s, my uncle, then a teenager, found himself at odds with the Law in Las Cruces, NM.  Simply put, the police had decided he was, in fact, his brother, wanted for fleeing a drag race in the same car my uncle had just driven home.  Despite his repeated pleas that they were arresting the wrong Carter boy, the police persevered, first handcuffing my uncle, and then shuffling him into the police car.  Unbeknownst to them, the woman who lived across the street from my dad’s family had observed everything.  Turning to her husband, she said Harold, they go the wrong boy!  You go down to the station and help them straighten this out!”  That’s how my uncle found himself riding back to his house in the car of Dr. Harold Daw, head of the New Mexico State University physics department. 


The Hot Rod in Question
The reason I bring this story up now, isn’t because of its somewhat topical nature in relation to the state of police arrests in this day and age.  (Although I do suspect prisoners can no longer be liberated on the say-so of a physics department head.)  Nope, it’s because I found an air table, at the Excelsior Science Workshop[3] this week, and well… Dr. Daw in addition to being the ‘great liberator’ of wrongly accused teens in Las Cruces, New Mexico, is also the documented inventor[1] of the air table!  Ever played air hockey?  Dr. Daw’s invention for studying two-dimensional mechanics in physics lab ultimately became best known as the air hockey table!

From AJP article [1]


Dr. Daw first publicly documented his invention in a 1963 issue of The American Journal of Physics, known colloquially to physics students the world over as the AJP.  In this article, he pointed out the advantages of the device for studying two dimensional collisions, and gave explicit instructions for how to build one. In the original implementation, they floated glass pucks on the air cushion.  In our local incarnation, the glass pucks have become CDs!

Like many-a-rock star, in 1987, Dr. Daw topped his original offering by adding... wait for it... fire!  The images in the AJP article does’t due the experience justice, but the video by +Jared Ficklin who built a fire-table of his own does!

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