Science Education Conference - Western Illinois University  -  Spring 2005

Introduction to Physlets and their use in the classroom and computer lab

This page will be posted on my personal website at WIU at:  http://frontpage.wiu.edu/~bmd111/intro_physlets.htm  and will be used on-line for the workshop on Friday, April 15, 2005.

Physlets are being used in several applications to physics instruction:  lecture simulations (really, a type of lecture demonstration), short exercises with visualization, and homework problems using simulated physical events.

Physlets can incorporate sound, which is difficult to use in the classroom without special equipment.  Here is an example that could be used in discussions of sound, frequency, and physics of music:

Fourier synthesizer with sound.  You can change waveform, frequency, and number of Fourier components, with practice.

*  Another synthesizer with multiple sliders, perhaps easier to use.

Physlets for electrostatics can allow for interactive simulations of fields around charged particles:

Distance dependence of Coulomb's Law  Drag the test charge around with the mouse.

Electric field and field lines with movable test charge Switch between field lines and vectors, and drag the charges.  ?

Equipotentials of various charge combinations This has many options, some more useful than others for lecture simulations.  ?

Physlets for magnetism:

Earth's magnetic field with field lines or vectors, and a compass.  ?

Helical motion to show a more precise simulation of the usual arm-flailing that we use in the classroom.

Magnetic field from two wires, with unequal currents, field vectors, and compass!  You can set I = 0 in one wire to a get single wire.  ?

Magnetic field from one or two loops of wire.  Starts discussion of the solenoid in the next simulation.  ?

Magnetic field from numerous loops of wire  You can keep going until you fill the whole screen with solenoid.

Physlets for electromagnetic waves

Moving charge, user controlled Change velocity to see the generation of electromagnetic waves.

Electric fields due to a moving point charge Set to SHO on drop-down list and mention BatMan as you explain electromagnetic radiation.

Slow-motion simulation of an electromagnetic wave is much better than a static picture in a book.

Physlets for optics

Reflection and refraction of waves (by Huygen's principle) You need to go through five steps and explain carefully while it runs.

Explanation of refraction and a link to a simulation

Real image formation by a convex lens.  (simple version, doesn't trace enough rays to make it clear)

Virtual Optics Bench  is useful for lecture discussion, but it's easy to overload the students.  (There is a full-screen version.)

World as seen by a fish from underwater! Somewhat offbeat, but shows that you don't need lenses to get images.

Reflection/refraction of a flashlight beam from underwater - motivates total internal reflection, but a real demo might be better!

Parabolic mirror show how parallel rays are focused.

Ripple tank simulation (you can add a second source to see interference)

Another use of Physlets is in assigned homework.  This is appearing in auxiliary websites for college physics textbooks, such as:

Wilson/Buffa Companion website:  http://www.prenhall.com/wilson/
(Select the text we are using, the black one, then use the “Jump to” drop-down menu to choose Ch 5, and then Physlet 5-2.)

Print references

Physlet® Physics: Interactive Illustrations, Explorations and Problems for Introductory Physics, Wolfgang Christian and Mario Belloni, both of Davidson College, ISBN: 0-13-101969-4, Prentice Hall, 2004, Paper; 352 pp., about \$28.  This is a workbook with CD that can be packaged with some of the Prentice-Hall Physics texts or bought and used separately by students.  Physlets are categorized as Illustrations, Explorations, or Problems.

Physlets: Teaching Physics with Interactive Curricular Material, Wolfgang Christian and Mario Belloni, both of Davidson College, ISBN: 0-13-029341-5, Prentice Hall, 2001, Paper Bound w/CD-ROM; 304 pp., about \$30.  This is a book for instructors who might want to author their own Physlets, and this requires some programming skills.

Web references

Physlets home page at Davidson College.  This page has a Doppler simulation at the bottom of the page, which is one of my favorites.

A search page that searches through a database of thousands of on-line physlets.  (For example, search on Wien or Doppler.)

The Worsley School Science Pages are designed for middle and high school science, not just physics.   There is a physics page, though.

Second-semester physlets for my algebra-based college physics course at WIU in Spring 2005.  Mostly for lectures.

Optics physlets that Dr. Davies used in Physics 428, Applied Optics, at WIU in Fall 2003.  Many more examples, some a bit advanced.

Professional organizations and conferences

American Association of Physics Teachers (www.aapt.org)
The 2005 Summer Meeting will be in Salt Lake City, UT on Aug. 6-10, 2005.

You may be interested in the Illinois Section of AAPT (www.isaapt.org) which has many high school teachers as members, with some college faculty.
The Fall 2005 meeting is at Riverside-Brookfield High School (joint with the Chicago Section of AAPT, http://www.neiu.edu/~csaapt/) on Fri. and Sat. Oct. 28-29, 2005.
Dues are only \$5 and for high school teachers the meeting registration fee is waived (but you pay some for lunch and dinner).  See the web site for details.