Over the years I have put together a number of programs which I present in a wide variety of settings


Jolts and Volts


 Central to my outreach is my “Jolts and Volts” show which I’ve been doing in various forms for the past 20 years I stopped counting when I had done shows for 50,000 kids…  I still manage to  I’ve average about one show per month in venues as small as rural elementary school classes to 1000 person gatherings . Over the years I’vealso  worked hard to use this program to selectively reach out to groups underrepresented in STEM careers including girls, people of color and the disabled community.  

Jolts and Volts (JnV), which has been evolving since 1993, is a content unit that explores electricity through a series of participatory demonstrations from microVolts to MegaVolts. Although this show has numerous opportunities for audience participation, it is more of a stage presentation than a build-it-and-take-it-with-you workshop. We ply our hair-raising and enlight’ning trade with demos using our VanDeGraaf generator, Tesla Coil, Jacob’s Ladder, Theramin, Electrostatic motors, and pickle electrocuter. The presentation discusses basic electrical concepts, invited the participants to explore electricity via their senses and discusses history of the major inventions in electricity.

The current list of experiments includes:

  • Microvolts – a spontaneous student performance on a home built ‘Theremin’ musical instrument
  • Millivolts – a home built EKG tied to a Theremin to make music from a students heartbeat
  • Volts – a series of talking toys, and home built robots from very small to ride-upon size one built out of wheelchair motors
  • 10 volts, – a demonstration comparing the conductivity of a student’s tongue to that of steel wool .. very impressive
  • 100 volts – making a light bulb out of a pickle. A multimedia mix of sight, sound and … smell !
  • 1000 volts – a paper towel cannon ignited by piezoelectric discharge
  • 10,000 volts a simple jakobs ladder with a discussion on spectroscopy
  • 100,000 volts – experiments with a large van der Graaf generator including raising students hair, flying pie plates and rice crispie explosions
  • 1,000,000 volts – a large home built tesla coil making 4 foot arcs to a pickle.


Much of our equipment is home-built. One of our major goals is to demonstrate engineering ingenuity and imagination as well as physics concepts. Jolts ‘n Volts is our most traveled show, having been invited to some special IBM-sponsored events: the IBM Engineering Expo at the New York Hall of Science; and an EPCOT Center Show at Disney World. Unlike our usual presenter-funded efforts, both the travel and the lodging for these two presentations were funded by IBM. Jolts and Volts is presented roughly twice a month at area schools, boy and girl scouts, and other civic groups. The Program lasts from 1 to two hours with a typical audience between 30 and 70 elementary through middle school students though the program has been adapted for both younger and older audiences, Jolts and Volts has also been adapted to kids with different needs and backgrounds. For example, the shows have been adapted to deaf kids via an ASL translation and sound to ‘feel’ and sound to visual adaptations of many of the experiments We estimate that Jolts and Volts would have been seen by more than 100,000 kids in VT, NY, MA, DC and FL. The program has been featured on CNN, CBS, ABC, USAtoday, EETimes. And more than 50 national newspapers. (e.g. http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2004-06-11-madsci_x.htm) (or ‘Google’ “John Cohn” IBM or “John Cohn” science fun)

Inventors like You

I have a program aimed at getting kids to think of themselves as inventors. It highlights a number of common inventions and the stories and people behind them. Many of the examples are chosen to show that inventors are not all “old white men” .Examples include Louis Lattimer, an African American inventor that co-invented the modern light bubl, Stephanie Kowalik, the Diupont Inventor of Kevlat, and even kid inventors. .. Every invention is illustrated with a fun , interactive demonstration.
a link to the presentation i use as part of this program can be found here.

After School Science Enrichment

For several years, my wife and I offered a 6 week after school science program for elementary school student (grades 4-5) . The class was based around a kit that included

  • magnets
  • lens
  • motors
  • pH paper
  • wire
  • glue
  • startch
  • compass
  • LED’s
  • switches
  • test tubes
  • buzzer
  • batteries
  • sound chip
  • paper clips
  • rubber bands
  • …. and some other stuff

I have a  syllabus for this class If you want more information, please contact me.


7 Responses to “Programs”

  1. Betsy Brigham says:

    John– I would love to bring Jolts and Volts to our K-12 school in Plainfield/Marshfield, VT. Where can I find information about cost, availability and your willingness to travel to the boondocks of Washington Cty? Hope to hear from you– Betsy Brigham

  2. johncohn says:

    Send me email at johncohn@us.ibm.com.. I do get as far as you guys several times a year.. Time is an issue… but money is not. My fee is generally one grilled cheese.. but I can waive that on cases of need 🙂 (seriously.. there is no charge)

  3. César says:

    Doc, all of your actions and efforts are incredible and entertainingly inspiring. Makes us kids again, in the sense of rediscovering the pleasure and enchantment of science and wanting to be better persons. Thank you. Your time management skills are also terrific. We needed heroes like that in Brazil. Do you have the detailed practical project of the Tesla coil? Because it’s very hard to calculate it and make it work. How can I obtain it (the projetct and practical details to a small laboratory of technical students) to make it shine and spit some rays and volts? Thank you again. Best regards!

  4. Nikolai Hesterberg says:


    I’m a freshman in college in the Applied Physics program at Appalachian State. Your intelligence, attitude, and outlook on life (as seen on the colony) inspires me and drives me to do great things. I hope one day I have half the abilities you have. Take care, and continue the awesome outreach programs. Unfortunately I’m now a little too old for them, but I find all your work extremely interesting. Maybe one day you will make it down to the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina!

    Take care,

  5. Thad says:


    We went to your Jolts and Volts presentation last night in Jericho. AWESOME! We truly enjoyed the show and you’re an inspiration to all.

    My daughter was the one who got freeked out by the Tesla Coil so just wanted to let you know that she was fine she did tell us later she had fun. 🙂

    Thanks for what you do for the kids (and adults)

  6. Adele West-Fisher says:


    The summer reading theme at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum is “Every Hero has a Story”. One of my theme weeks is Science Heroes. A librarian I work with suggested your program. I believe she got your name from someone who is thinking about opening a makers place in St. J. If you would consider coming I might be able to get a few other librarians interested, as well. We are all doing the same hero theme this summer. What do you think? Would you be interested?

    Thanks for your consideration.


    Adele West-Fisher
    Youth Services Librarian
    St. Johnsbury Athenaeum

  7. JohnCohnJohnCohn,

    Mary Alice and I are going to Vietnam the end of this week, where Elden is teaching 5th grade. Stealing JnV stuff to use along with BitsNBytes Arduino Robots etc. Any quick ideas / contacts appreciated!

    We’ll bring a SamStone to Angkor Wat.

    Best Regards, Terry
    …In The Woods in Vermont, USA

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