Sixteen labs are summarized below. They are listed in the
order in which they typically occur in a physics curriculum.
There are six groupings of labs: Mechanics,
Oscillations and Waves, Kinetic
Theory of Gases, Electricity and Magnetism,
Optics, and Special
Students learn about the fundamentals of one-dimensional motion in the context of the simple arcade game, Skee-Ball. All the basic concepts of kinematics are taught: position, displacement, velocity and acceleration. In the early exercises, students observe values for these properties and answer questions such as: "Is the ball accelerating and if so, what is its acceleration?" Using their observations and their physics skills, they supply the ball with the appropriate initial velocity to get a high score.
In a later exercise, students must use a linear motion equation that is shown and explained to them. In the grand finale, they strive to have four balls on four different ramps arrive at the same point at the same time. Each ramp has its own properties (resulting in different accelerations), and the students must set different properties for the balls. This exercise can be accomplished alone, but also works well with a lab team.
Navigating race tracks (centripetal acceleration and
motion in two dimensions)
This lab can be used before or after the projectile motion labs described below. It starts with a brief review of acceleration in one dimension and then explores how an object moving at a constant speed can be accelerating.
In the lab, the students drive a racecar with special instrumentation. To start, they drive the car around a curve approximated with linear segments and have to set the velocity components for each segment. There is also an exercise where they try to drive a car around a circular track by continually adjusting the car's x and y velocity components using the keyboard arrow keys, a surprisingly challenging and informative task.
The lab also has exercises on centripetal acceleration. The students record data in order to determine how curve radius and speed determine centripetal acceleration. They must apply what they learn to beat a computer racecar around a track having different curves. Too slow and they lose; too fast and they skid off the track. A final optional exercise includes the topic of force; students are told the coefficient of friction between the car and the track and are again asked to beat the computer racer.
Firing cannons and Juggling
objects (projectile motion)
The cannon lab is discussed in depth elsewhere.
The juggling lab covers the same concepts as the cannon lab,
but in what other laboratory can your final exercise be the
juggling of five chainsaws? We provide the juggling lab for
those who prefer non-militaristic settings and because juggling
is fun! In addition to studying projectile motion, students
also learn the basics of real-world juggling - at least in
Helicopters in flight (Newton's laws)
Save the day! Students pilot a helicopter in order to learn about Newton's laws. They see how a net force determines acceleration by considering the weight of the helicopter. Students face challenges such as: Will the helicopter keep moving at a constant velocity if there is no net force? How can they cause it to hover after they have supplied enough force for it to become airborne?
Students also experiment with a variable force, air resistance, and see how to achieve a constant velocity while allowing for this force. The final two exercises focus on forces acting in multiple dimensions. The first is qualitative; the second requires students to apply vector analysis to "save the day."
Orbiting satellites (fundamentals of gravity and orbits)
If your school does not have a spacecraft for lab use, you are in luck: Kinetic Books has two labs about orbital mechanics. The lab called "Orbiting satellites" focuses on the basics of circular orbits: gravity, orbital speed and radius.
The orbits lab starts with Newton's cannon; students experiment with the relationship between projectile and orbital motion. An optional exercise allows students to observe the relationship between gravitational force, mass and the separation between masses. The students return to Newton's cannon and apply their knowledge of uniform circular motion and centripetal force to deduce the relationship between the mass of a central body, orbital size and speed. They use this knowledge to put a satellite in areosynchronous orbit around Mars. They then launch a satellite from Earth, allowing for its rotation. As a final exercise, they perform the tricky maneuver of docking their spacecraft with an orbital space station. Hmm . . . if you fire your rocket's main engines, can you move faster and stay in your existing orbit?
Mission to Mars (advanced
In the Mission to Mars lab, a more advanced lab than "Orbiting satellites," students apply energy considerations and use Kepler's laws to enable their spacecraft to reach Mars from the Earth. The lab starts with several exercises that explore the relationship between the potential and kinetic energy of an object in orbit. Students use the knowledge they gain in these exercises to determine the amount of energy required to change orbits. Next come several exercises that deal with elliptical orbits and Kepler's laws. They learn about the fundamentals of the Hohmann transfer and plot an elliptical orbit from the Earth to Mars. They can also compare their projected launch dates with the dates that NASA has calculated as "launch windows." Students use this information and standard data about the orbits of the Earth and Mars to time their launch when Mars is in the desired position.
Birds on a wire (basics of a single mechanical wave)
The setting is a telephone wire inhabited by birds. One bird initiates a wave and the other birds go along for the ride. The students start with wave pulses and then move on to continuous waves. Slow motion enables students to clearly see and learn the fundamentals of mechanical waves.
Students learn how to determine the wavelength, amplitude, frequency, period and speed of a wave by observing its properties in a simulation. They must apply these concepts to knock pesky birds off the wire.
The students explore the relationship of wave speed, frequency and wavelength. They also learn how the linear density of and tension in a wire affect wave speed.
Two final optional exercises introduce the equation for the displacement of a wave as a function of position and time. Students control a wave's displacement by setting its amplitude and frequency. They must set these coefficients correctly in two exercises, in one to dislodge a particularly annoying bird and in the other to save a baby bird.
Playing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (wave superposition,
standing waves, wave speed and music)
Students experiment with string length to see its relationship to frequency and hear the resulting sounds. They then do a quick review of wave fundamentals (observing a wave and noting its frequency, amplitude and so on). These review exercises are followed by a series of exercises that explore superposition, wave reflection and standing waves. Students view and experiment with wave superposition at slow speeds allowing them to see the formation of standing waves. They then move on to explore harmonics and nodes and antinodes. They see how by placing a virtual finger on a string, they can determine the position of a node and the resulting harmonic.
Then come the musical sections. Students are first challenged to create a multi-stringed instrument to play the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, whose frequencies they are given. They are supplied with multiple untuned strings. The students set the string lengths to create the desired fundamental frequencies, and then place a finger in the correct position to create a harmonic. If they successfully create the simple stringed instrument, the famous melody results as the computer plays the strings in a set sequence.
As the final exercise, the students can create an eight-string guitar, a nine-string piano and an eleven-string bass on separate computers. The computers will play "The Physics Blues" for them on the strings they have configured or they can use the keyboard to play any tune they like in their own orchestra.
KINETIC THEORY OF GASES
Ideal gas lab
This lab is discussed in detail elsewhere.
ELECTRICITY AND MAGNETISM
Electric golf (Coulomb's law)
This lab first guides the students toward discovering or confirming Coulomb's law. They record data and determine how the amount of force between charges varies depending on the amount of charge and the distance between them. They also apply what they know about vectors while experimenting with superposition in multi-charge configurations. The simulations enable them to see the forces on a charge arising singly from every other charge, and the net force exerted together by all the other charges, via color-coded and net force vectors. A game-like exercise lets them apply the principle of conservation of charge.
In the final exercises, the students play "proton golf," where the amount of charge in a putter and its location determine the force on a charged golf ball. Obstacles include sand traps and hills, which are charged regions. The simulation keeps track of the score over a course of five holes.
Investigating electric fields
This lab covers the basics of electric fields and more. Students start by using a test charge to explore an electric field. They can change the amount and the sign of the charge and the simulation displays the force exerted on it by the field. They then place a test charge in an electric field depicted with a field diagram to see the relationship between the direction of the force on the charge and the field lines, including curved field lines, and how the "density" of field lines indicates field strength. An exercise then asks them to draw field diagrams for a single charge and for a dipole; they can use a simulation to confirm the accuracy of their diagrams.
The lab then progresses to topics that can be considered optional. Students explore the field created by a multi-charge configuration. In another exercise, they are asked to determine what happens when two fields are combined; they use the simulation to confirm their hypothesis. In the final exercise, the students determine the strength of the field required to cause a charge to arrive at a particular location. This provides both a review of projectile motion and a chance to recreate part of a famous Curie experiment.
Generators and transformers (electromagnetic induction)
This lab starts with the fundamentals and keeps going and going and going. It begins with students moving a wire segment in a magnetic field and observing the creation of charged regions. This wire segment is then placed on the classic U-shaped "track" to form a circuit so that students can cause an emf to be induced by moving the wire. Students experiment with the effect of speed and field strength on the induced emf. They can also observe a wire loop turning in a magnetic field. The option of changing their viewing angle when observing this simple generator proves very valuable.
The lab then progresses to the study of a solenoid. The students observe the nature of the magnetic field created by a current flowing through a solenoid and how changes in this current induce an emf. This leads to exercises on magnetic flux and Faraday's law. Students must set the rate of change of the strength of a magnetic field in order to induce a desired emf; they are provided with an oscilloscope to observe the results. Next comes mutual induction, where the students configure a transformer to create a desired change in potential difference. As a final optional exercise, they return to the generator, where they can vary the number of loops, the area of each loop, the strength of the magnetic field and the angular speed of the loops.
Building a radio tuner (RLC circuits)
Students learn the fundamentals of how resistors, capacitors and inductors function in a circuit and then build a radio tuner. The lab starts with the students learning to use an oscilloscope to analyze signals. They then see how the voltage and current can be in phase or out of phase. The basics of phasors are explained to them. The students then use the oscilloscope, which includes a phasor display, and observe phase differences to determine whether a given "mystery" component is a resistor, capacitor or inductor. They are then told the formulas for reactance and asked to determine a capacitor's capacitance and an inductor's inductance.
The lab finishes with a discussion of resonance. They explore the concept of impedance as well as the basic workings of an AM radio tuner. The students must set the capacitance of a variable capacitor so that the tuning circuit has the right frequency to receive a message.
Helicopters vs. submarines (Snell's law/refraction)
Students aim lasers from hovering helicopters to disable submarines lurking below the sea. They learn to apply Snell's law, and to use it to determine the refractive index of an unknown medium. Since the submarines shoot back, careful application of the law is required! The students also need to apply the concept of total internal reflection to take a "bank shot" at a sub lurking behind an undersea formation.
Jump into Einstein's shoes (special relativity)
Reference frames, simultaneity, a "light clock," time dilation and length contraction are the topics of this lab. Simulations that enable students to switch from one reference frame to another prove particularly useful.
The lab starts with the basics: What is meant by a reference frame and relative velocity? A professor throws a ball as he skateboards past student observers. The students doing the lab determine the velocity of the ball in his reference frame as well as in the reference frame of an observer sitting in the classroom.
This concept of relative velocity is then contrasted with measurements of the speed of light. Instead of throwing a ball, the professor fires a laser. Does his motion affect the speed of light?
The students proceed to a recreation of Einstein's famous simultaneity thought-experiment. Flashes of lightning strike two posts. At first, a professor is on a train that is stationary relative to a second observer. The students see how both observers view the strikes as occurring simultaneously. Then, the train is put in motion, and the students observe the events from two reference frames, one in which the ground is stationary and one in which the professor is stationary. They are challenged to see if they can set the times of the strikes so that each observer perceives them as simultaneous (but they are encouraged to not spend too much time trying to do so).
Next comes a light clock. Again, the students can observe the clock from two reference frames. They see the path of the light traced in the simulation. This leads to the topic of length contraction. The professor in this exercise is moving between two basketball hoops, but exactly how far is it between those hoops? As a final exercise, the students use a light clock to measure the distance between New York and Paris when moving at nearly the speed of light.
The Java system was designed to be extensible, and we have built an authoring system on top of the Java system. If you are interested in extending the Java engine, or using it for your own purposes, we would be interested in hearing from you.
Experience the product