Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Physics at UAlbany's Community Day

When we studied Chemistry a couple years ago, we started off with a trip to see local colleges put on demonstrations for "National Chemistry Week." There's nothing like that for physics, but luckily the University at Albany's Physics Department had several demonstrations as part of the school's Community Day. We saw Lego models of the Mars Rover and other robots, some cool (sorry!) liquid nitrogen tricks, a hologram of King Kong, and a mad scientist-type Jacob's Ladder. (I couldn't help but notice how much of the department's equipment looked like it belonged in Frankenstein's lab -- I guess the nanotech money hasn't spread to the physics dept.) Still, the professors and students were very friendly and willing to answer questions, and it was cool to see some stuff we probably won't be doing at home!

This is a Jacob's Ladder. Look closely between the upright bars and you will see a spark rising up.

The magnetic rings are repelled when the current is turned on, creating a like magnet charge on the center bar.

Also a little hard to see, this is a rotating hologram which shows an animated image of King Kong dangling from the top of the Empire State building.

Dipping an inflated balloon in liquid nitrogen makes it contract. As it re-warms, the air inside expands to fill the balloon again.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Microsoft's Project Tuva Feynmann Lectures

Sadly, work commitments have kept me from getting started on our physics projects, but by next week I hope to be done and ready to go. But I am adding resources to the sidebar, so check there, and posting snippets as they come in.

I just came across a resource on the Microsoft website -- the Feynman lectures. Richard Feynman is of course one of my (and a lot of people's) heroes when it comes to making science seem interesting, even to the layperson. The Microsoft site is called Project Tuva. (Tuva is a region of Siberia which interested Feynman because of its rare stamps -- one of his many side interests.) It requires downloading a new player called Silverlight, which enables you to read related texts and makes notes. (Perhaps too much going on, but that's how it's set up.) Here's what Microsoft says:
The enhanced Video Player offers you the following functionality:

What is Project Tuva?

Microsoft Research’s Project Tuva explores core scientific concepts and theories through presenting timeless videos with its new enhanced Video Player featuring searchable video, linked transcripts, notes and interactive extras.

Featured Video Series

The Messenger Lectures include seven videos of Dr. Richard Feynman speaking on physics at Cornell University in 1964. His signature speaking style, humor, and clarity is enhanced by Project Tuva’s interactive annotations and full transcripts.

The following lectures are included in this material.

  • Lecture 1: The Law of Gravitation – An Example of Physical Law (55:37)
  • Lecture 2: The Relation of Mathematics and Physics (55:32)
  • Lecture 3: The Great Conservation Principles (56:03)
  • Lecture 4: Symmetry in Physical Law (57:06)
  • Lecture 5: The Distinction of Past and Future (46:00)
  • Lecture 6: Probability and Uncertainty – The Quantum Mechanical View of Nature (56:32)
  • Lecture 7: Seeking New Laws (57:56)
  • Fully Searchable Content – Search the transcripts from any of the seven videos.
  • Interactive Transcripts - While watching the videos you can see transcripts from the lectures and skip to any section of the lecture by clicking on the text in the transcript.
  • Integrated Timelines – You can click on any section of the video as it is playing and either skip to another section or select any of the extras integrated directly into the video presentations.
  • Interactive Extras – In addition to the seven videos there are numerous links to other sites for more information about that specific topic.
  • Insert Notes – Insert your own notes during any portion of the videos and use these notes for navigation on the integrated timelines.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Zen and the art of cantilever bridgebuilding

This lovely photo by my fellow GeekDad writer Nathan Barry shows what you can do when you understand physics, and forces, and all that stuff. As Wikipedia explains:

A cantilever bridge is a bridge built using cantilevers, structures that project horizontally into space, supported on only one end. For small footbridges, the cantilevers may be simple beams; however, large cantilever bridges designed to handle road or rail traffic use trusses built from structural steel, or box girders built from prestressed concrete. The steel truss cantilever bridge was a major engineering breakthrough when first put into practice, as it can span distances of over 1,500 feet (460 m), and can be more easily constructed at difficult crossings by virtue of using little or no falsework.
Everything I know about bridges I learned from the Building Big book/TV series/website by David Macaulay. Here's how he explains cantilever bridges, using the Firth of Forth bridge as an example:

Thanks to Teacher's Domain for the clip!

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

2010 is Year of the Laser


I'm starting to collect organizations and events for the public that relate to physics. Coming in 2010 is Laserfest. From the website:

Begun as a collaboration between the American Physical Society, the Optical Society and SPIE, LaserFest is a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the laser, which was invented in 1960. From DVD players to eye surgery, the laser is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century—one that has revolutionized the way we live.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Physics Central

I've started collecting physics education links (see the sidebar). And, as with chemistry, I was hoping to find a professional organization offering resources to people interested in, and teaching, physics. And I did. The American Physical Society has a website called Physics Central. Here's what they say about it:

The American Physical Society represents some 45,000 physicists, and most of our work centers on scientific meetings and publications-the primary ways that physicists communicate with each other. With PhysicsCentral, we communicate the excitement and importance of physics to everyone. We invite you to visit our site every week to find out how physics is part of your world. We'll answer your questions on how things work and keep you informed with daily updates on physics in the news. We'll describe the latest research and the people who are doing it and, if you want more, where to go on the web. So stick with us. It's a big, interesting world out there, and we look forward to showing you around.
I plan on adding loads of other links and articles, as well as lab reports, so stayed tuned!