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my personal history

Elevator Introduction

My name is Don Balanzat. I am a physicist at Arizona State University, where my job is to create and perform demonstrations. The purpose of this is to show students that the content of their textbooks exists in the real world in a very tangible and very useful way. I have a B.S. in Physics from Rutgers University and I am currently studying for a Master's focusing on immersive technologies like virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR/MR, or collectively XR).

Undergraduate Career

I decided to study physics for a degree back in 2012 because I was obsessed with the Higgs Boson. It had just been discovered at the Large Hadron Collider when I took my first physics class. I had also just started watching The Big Bang Theory (this played an almost equal role and I am not ashamed of that!). I thought that I really wanted to become a particle physicist and become one of the people who helps develop the "periodic table" of particles and solve the problem of fundamental order in the universe.

At the open house they put on for majors at Rutgers, I saw their demonstration expert Dave Maiullo in action for the first time. He blew up a hydrogen balloon to show us why it was a bad idea to float things with it.


I was hooked.

I asked him if I could help out and possibly work for him, and my first assignment had me using physics demonstrations during an outreach event for the public. These events had us talking with everyone across the demographic spectrum. Toddlers, high schoolers, college kids, college professors, senior citizens, all with different backgrounds, skills, and experiences. It was during this event that I realized that there was something interesting to teach all of them. It was also during this event that I experienced the feeling of guiding someone to a piece of knowledge that they didn't have before. I spent the next four years at this job, where I had the privilege to provide this type of experience for thousands of people in intimate settings, both formally and informally.

Working Life

I continue to perform this job to this day at ASU, where I have been since July 2016. I am very curious about why people respond to what I do.

In addition to my work as a physics educator, I am very interested in the world of outreach and science activism. I have gone to dozens of organizations (mostly schools, but sometimes agencies like OSHA) to show them how physics is useful in their fields and in their lives. My most notable involvement in activism was back in 2017, where I was a lead organizer in the Phoenix March for Science. I advocated the movement on television and radio, emceed a rally, and led a march of over 14,000 people who felt wronged by the defunding of science and a lack of data- and evidence-driven policy in governance. I wholeheartedly believe that these problems continue to stem from an uneducated population and want to understand why this population continues to exist in large numbers.

Graduate Career

All of this leads to my current educational undertaking - my Master's program (2020-2022) where I will be attempting to combine learning science and VR/AR to enhance STEAM education. I hope to take my hunches and suspicions about what I think works from my experience in STEAM and XR. I want to use this knowledge to create things that can give people that "light bulb moment" in a novel, optimized way.

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