Wednesday, March 14, 2012

AP Physics:
Exploring Light and Color with Hubble

Learning Objectives
Students will be able to demonstrate their understanding of color addition by creating a color image using three monochromatic Hubble Space Telescope images.

Activity Type
This activity is best used as an introductory project to activate student enthusiasm for learning about light and color. The project instructions will guide students through the process of creating a color astronomical image, which involves principles of color addition for light. 

Assignment Details
  • Visit the project homepage at:
  • Go to Activity 6 and read the introductory instructions.
  • Work through Step 1 of the activity to learn the basics of using ImageJ to view astronomical images.
  • Complete Step 2 of the project to create your own version of the iconic Hubble image, "Pillars of Creation."
  • In Step 3, choose an astronomical object of interest to you and try to create a true color image that accurately depicts the object. Save your final image as a JPEG.
  • Write a paragraph describing the images that you created and how the principle of color addition is evident in your final product. Be sure to explain why you are confident that this image reflects a 'true color' view of the object.
  • Submit your image and your paragraph to your instructor
    Instructor's Notes
    • Consider using activities 1 through 5 of the "Color the Universe" project as an enjoyable break from the usual preparations for the AP exam. Activities 1, 3, and 5 may be of particular interest to high school physics students.
    • A true color image is one where red, green, and blue color is assigned to images that capture only those wavelengths of light. The HST image files have the central wavelength of light capture by the picture specified in the file name. 
    • Most of the iconic HST images we see are not actually true color images. Scientists create their images to illustrate the many different features and subtleties of an object, but this may be misleading to the general public. The topic of whether or not this is deceptive could make for an interesting class discussion after the project is completed. 
    • After creating a true color image, students should be encouraged to try making color pictures using the other HST data sets and explore with various combinations of the astronomical images.

    Hippocampus Correlation
    These activities would best be used in conjunction with the Dispersion of Light lesson found in the Physical Optics section of AP Physics B at

    Wednesday, February 15, 2012

    AP Physics
    Teaching waves with the iPad

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to demonstrate their knowledge of wave terminology, the principle of superposition, and resonance using iPad apps.

    Activity Type
    These activities could be used as an introduction to the associated wave topics, or they could even be used as a form of assessment. 

    Assignment Details
    • Each of the iPad apps below can be used by teachers or students to demonstrate physics principles related to wave motion, the principle of superposition, and resonance. For each app, a sample activity idea is provided. Each of the apps listed in this post are free educational apps available in the iTunes App Store.
    • String: This app consists of a simple string running the length of the iPad. Much like the "Wave on a string" simulation from PhET, you can adjust the properties of the string to make a variety of pulse, oscillating, standing, or traveling waves.
      • Make a wave activity: Students work as individuals or in groups to create types of waves specified by the instructor. They pause the screen to demonstrate to the instructor that they have successfully created the assigned wave type. For example, students could be asked to create: one fast and one slow traveling wave, a standing wave with two antinodes, or two pulse waves headed toward destructive interference. 
    • LU Wave Lab: This app acts as a virtual wave table with several different modes of operation. A simple touch on the screen can send a single 2D pulse wave in all directions or start a sinusoidal pulse oscillating.
      • Characterizing interference patterns: Students use the "sinusoidal wave source" mode of the app to experiment with how the separation between two pulsing sources influences the shape of the interference pattern. Student should try a variety of source arrangements to determine a general rule that describes the shape of the interference pattern based on the placement of the sources. After discussing as a class, formalize the rule by writing it on the board. Then ask students to predict what an interference pattern would look like with three oscillating sources. 
    • Fourier Touch: This app provides a wonderful illustration of the principle of superposition and Fourier synthesis. Any touch on the screen produces a sinusoidal waveform and an associated sound. The exact location of the touch on the screen influences the frequency and amplitude of the waveform. Multiple simultaneous touches produce multiple waveforms - each of their own frequency and amplitude. The sum of all of these waveforms is shown in the center of the screen.
      • Beat patterns demonstration: By selecting two waveforms that are very close in frequency, this app nicely demonstrates the beat pattern that emerges. The audio generated by the two waveforms will clearly illustrate the characteristic wah-wah of a beat. By making small changes to the frequencies of the two waveforms, you can convincingly show that the beat frequency is equal to the difference between the frequencies of the two waveforms.
    Instructor's Notes
    • Each of these activities could be modified for a one-to-one setting or a classroom with only a single iPad. If only one iPad is available, ask a student volunteer to come to the front of the room to use the app as a demonstration. 
    • In the LU Wave Lab, be sure that you modify the "mesh boundaries" setting to "MTC" to make sure that the waves don't bounce off of the walls of the simulation. 
    • For further analysis of sound waves include Fourier decomposition, you may consider using the free iPad apps: oScope Lite, Octave Lite, and Fourier Lite, which use the built-in microphone to analyze sounds by creating a frequency spectrum. 

    Hippocampus Correlation
    These activities would best be used in conjunction with the Wave Motion lessons found in AP Physics B at In particular, Superposition, Traveling Waves, Standing Waves, Sound Waves, and Resonance.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    AP Physics
    Challenge Circuits

    Learning Objectives
    Students will build several circuits using switches and principles of series and parallel circuitry.

    Activity Type
    This activity would best be used as an introduction to circuits and electricity. No previous experience in electricity or circuits is required for students to complete these challenges. This activity could also be used as a practicum component to a unit test on circuits and electricity. 

    Assignment Details
    • Teams of students will use a variety of simple circuit equipment (batteries, bulbs with holders, wires, alligator clips, and SPDT switches) to complete four circuit challenges. 
    • Circuit Challenges:
      1. String of Lights: Create a string of three lights that could be used for a Christmas Tree. If one of the three lights breaks (or is loosened from its socket) the other lights should still stay on.
      2. Lighting a Tunnel: Designing lights for a tunnel, you would like to be able to control two lights with one switch, which both turns on the light in front of you and turns off the light behind you. Create such a circuit. 
      3. Lighting a Stairwell: In this case we want to control one light with two switches - one at the top and one at the bottom of a stairwell. Wire a circuit with one bulb in which either switch can turn the bulb on or off at any time.
      4. Dimmer Switch: See if you can make a switch that would not only allow you to turn on and off a light, but also control how bright the light bulb gets. Try to create such a circuit. 
    • After a team completes one of the challenges, the team must demonstrate the function of the circuit to the instructor. Then, each student on the team must draw an accurate diagram that would allow them to rebuild the working circuit.

    Instructor's Notes
    • The circuit challenges are listed in order of difficulty with the easiest circuit first. It is acceptabe if some of the groups never reach the last two challenges, which are particularly tricky.
    • As you review the student circuits, be sure that they are not using a short in the circuit to make the light go out. Each of these circuits can be built without a short circuit. 
    • Proper understanding of SPDT (single pole double throw) switches is important for completing challenges #2 and #3. The "off" position of the switch must still make an electrical connection in order for students to create these circuits.
    • Students do not necessarily need to know about proper circuit diagrams before making their circuit drawings. In fact, it may be helpful for students to experience the difficulty of drawing a circuit before learning about circuit diagram conventions. 
    • Creating a dimmer switch (challenge #4) will require some way to change the current of the circuit. This could be accomplished by adding more than one bulb, or by adding a potentiometer (adjustable resistance device) to the circuit. 

    Hippocampus Correlation
    This activity would be an appropriate introduction to the "Electric Circuits" unit of AP Physics B.

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    AP Physics
    The Physics of Osmos Contest

    Join the Contest!
    The makers of Osmos have sponsored a contest open to all physics enthusiasts - students, teachers, everyone. Here's how it works:

    Create a one-minute video illustrating a physics concept that you discover in the game. The top entry will receive a $500 gift card to The top three runners up will also receive prizes.

    To submit your entry, follow the instructions below.
    • Download and install the Osmos free demo. (Or purchase Osmos from the App Store.)
    • Experiment with your gameplay to illustrate physics concepts using Osmos as your virtual lab.
    • Review the official contest rules.
    • Create a video illustrating a physics concept.
      (If you want to record your screen, try Jing or ScreenChomp)
    • Upload your video to YouTube, Vimeo, or
    • Complete the submission form by 11:59PM PST, January 2, 2012.
    Winners will be announced on January 4, 2012. 

    Teacher Notes
    • This contest would make a great activity for the final days before the holiday break from school. It would also be a fun project for advanced physics students over the break. 

    Hippocampus Correlation
    Review some of your physics knowledge using

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    AP Physics:
    How Do Pulleys (Do) Work?

    Learning Objectives
    Students will explore the significance of work by experimenting with pulleys.

    Assessment Type
    This activity is meant to partially replace a traditional lecture on the topic of work. It can be used as a brief hands-on laboratory activity, or it can be completed using the provided simulation in an online or hybrid classroom. The purpose of the activity is to generate class discussion and is best left ungraded.

    Assignment Details
    • Work is a difficult concept for students to understand, even the second or third time they encounter it. Simple machines in general, and the pulley in particular, provide excellent tools for exploring work since simple machines allow us to trade force for distance to transfer the same amount of energy. 
    • Begin the lesson by introducing the concept of work and providing students with the equation for work.
    • Without making any apparent connection to work, introduce students to the pulley. This can be accomplished with a set of physical pulley systems around the classroom (1-, 2-, and 4-pulley systems would work best). Alternatively, you can use the pulley gizmo with its 5-minute free trial. 
    • Do not over-introduce how pulleys work - simply point out that pulleys can make it easier to lift heavy objects, and that the more pulleys there are, the easier it is to lift the object.
      • Pose this question to students: How can simply adding pulleys make something lighter?
      • Ask students to work in teams of 2-3 to investigate this question and write out their explanation (including a drawing) on a white board or sheet of paper. 
      • When students are complete, ask a few groups to share their work with the class and discuss.

      Instructor's Notes
      • To make the investigation more quantitative, provide students with force meters and meter sticks. Students should be able to show that the same amount of work is done with each pulley configuration. 
      • A good transfer of knowledge question (in class, on homework, or on a test) would be to ask why pushing a cart up a ramp is 'easier' than lifting it straight up. You could follow up by asking whether we measure the difficulty of a task by the amount of work required or by the force required (the answer is not trivial). 

      Hippocampus Correlation
      This activity would be appropriate either before or immediately after the Hippocampus lesson on work