Fine Structure

Virtual Physics in Mechanics Class

Just a quick observation here: Dot Physics is currently in the midst of deconstructing the physics at work in Fantastic Contraption, which is brilliant all by itself. Then Chad drops this little golden nugget: "It also makes me wonder whether it would be possible to put this to educational uses-- giving introductory physics students a version of this game, for example, and asking them to experimentally determine the parameters."

This got me thinking about exactly how one would go about organizing this into a course. Given that the students would have access to a virtual world in which they can do all the common things you can do in FC, and either an integrated measurement device or, more basically, any application that can record movies from the screen, this could be a really fun project. Here's how I would set things up: you've taught the basics of mechanics and maybe had your first test already. Drop students onto a computer with all the interesting fundamental mechanics values set to "some alien world" and set them loose to figure out what values are different. BONUS POINTS for figuring out how these fundamental values would impact science and technology on a macro scale, i.e. is it possible to make a space elevator without inventing carbon nanotubes due to reduced g? Hit the comments with suggestions.


What about less atmospheric pressure? All my recipes involving boiling would be out of date :)

October 28, 2008
4:54 PM

From nerf86

This is an excellent idea. I think the difficulty would be in creating a world that does not follow the Newtonian ideas we are so used to. Sure, we could change it a little bit - maybe make the gravitational force near the surface of the Earth not constant or change hooke's law to F=-ks^3 or something. I do like this idea.

October 29, 2008
5:46 PM

From Rhett