Friday, September 27, 2013

Make Your Own Electric Field Demonstrator

To follow up on a recent post, I would like to include directions for teachers about how to create your very own Electric Field Demonstrator.

 Last winter, I gave a presentation on this topic at a Southern CA American Association of Physics Teachers meeting. The purpose of my presentation was the following: I have reviewed some of the methods surrounding the “Grass  Seeds in Mineral Oil” Electric Field Demonstration and am  advocating for a simpler, user-friendly, inexpensive method that  enables a more interactive and engaging demonstration. 

In the following ppt, I share the motivation for creating this demonstration, how to set up the demo, and teaching tips to make this demo easier for teachers to perform and share with students.

The following supplies are needed:

  • Lettuce Seeds (black, pointy)
  • Vegetable Oil (yellow, like amber)
  • Van de Graaff or Fun Fly Stick
  • Microscope Cam & LCD Projector
Once again, this video shows the outcome.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Contributions of the Physical Science Study Committee

When did you first learn about the PSSC?

I kept hearing my mentor Bill Layton talking about the PSSC as a series of films and then later, a collection of labs that were really good. When Bill and I talk, we often make references to the source of an idea or teaching technique or lab, or even the physics argument that justifies a point. Over time, he kept referencing the PSSC. Finally, I asked him what it stood for.

What is the PSSC?

The Physical Science Study Committee.

After Sputnik, the American government decided it wanted to invest in its citizens’ knowledge in the physical sciences so that we could produce a generation that would close the science gap. The committee was formed to improve science education in America. As you probably already know, for many people, the science community included, Sputnik was a wake-up call, because the Russians sent the satellite into space before the Americans did.

In 1956, the PSSC was funded by the National Science Foundation, Henry Ford, and Alfred P. Sloan. Scientists and science educators from MIT and Cornell, among others, worked together to create a textbook, lab manual and resource for teachers, and also a series of films. At the time this program was implemented, my college Bill Layton, a professor at UCLA (retired), was teaching in Los Angeles and he used the PSSC curriculum in his classrooms. In his class, the lights would go off and the latest PSSC film would turn on.

How did the PSSC curriculum and resources make a difference for physics education in America?

Before this book, physics in schools was mostly about fixing a car and home maintenance repairs and sometimes, engineering. However, the PSSC gave physics educators set quality standards by introducing the modern subject matter of topics we teach today. Classical mechanics, as opposed to practical mechanics, started to be taught according to this program. Another example: the modern treatment of the atomic structure of matter.

Try your hand at one of the problems!

One of the contributions of the PSSC that I find most interesting is the justification of a concept by experimental evidence. Students learned about experiments that can be performed or performed the actual experiment that illustrates a physics concept.

For example, when the textbook discussed electric fields, and while many books have similar diagrams (see above), this textbook raised the bar. 

Beside the diagram, on the facing page, photographs of electric fields are included (see above an image from the textbook). These electric fields were created by electrocuting grass seeds in oil. I did a similar experiment with lettuce seeds in vegetable oil on this video. Encouraged by the pictures I had seen in books, I created this electric field demonstrator.

Want to Learn More?

PSSC Films

Link to a PSSC film about Coulomb’s Law downloaded from

At this website, where I have compiled collection of physics videos (aptly named you can find “Frames of Reference,” one of the most well-known films produced by the PSSC. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Physics Blog Focuses on Videos

Another awesome blog that I didn't mention the other day is called The Best Physics Videos

As you would probably guess, I am very interested in this topic! The site includes animations, interviews, demonstrations, lectures, and documentaries. 

Recent posts include Star Classification, a Feather and a Coin in a vacuum demo, and a video about Pascal's Principle. Suggested videos are listed below the post, and the links along the side organize interesting videos by subject if you are researching something in particular for an upcoming lesson. For example, there are almost 300 posts related to Classical Mechanics. Videos are posted almost daily.

Some of the videos that I created at UCLA are featured on this blog as well. One video is about Rosalind Franklin and the X-ray Diffraction of DNA. My sister, Bonnie Lincoln, plays the part of Rosalind Franklin. 

Have you ever wondered how to measure the wavelength of laser light? I created this video as part of the UCLA Physics Videos project, with an audience of university students in mind, and many others can be seen here.  

Overall, I am proud to say that my videos are featured on the Best Physics Videos blog, so please go check out the blog and its latest posts!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things...Blogs

As a physics educator, I am always on the lookout for new, great ideas to improve my practice. I am always watching videos and reading blog entries and old and new science books.

Today I am going to share a few of my “favorite things”… some of my favorite physics blogs or blog entries.


This blog features videos, podcasts, and news from the physics world. Topics range from recent Nobel prize winners to Bill Nye’s appearance on Dancing with the Stars. Physics Central hosts video contests that I’ve entered as well, such as LaserFest and Toy Box Physics.

On this blog, award-winning online physics teacher Andrew Vanden Heuvel shares AP Physics lessons on topics ranging from pulleys to using the iPad to teach a waves lesson, integrating technology into lessons.

See below an "Explorer Story" the Google Glass video of Andrew Vanden Heuvel’s trip to CERN, the giant particle accelerator in Switzerland. He shared the journey live with a group of students using Google hangout and the video camera which showed all the he saw at CERN.

This blog, hosted by Kirk Robbins, science teacher and consultant, encourages science literary for everyone. He shares transformative science resources, which he defines as books, articles, websites, video clips, etc. that "can be used to support effective science teaching and learning for ALL kids… not just a few kids" and will be likely to change the way readers think about teaching and learning science.


Hosted by California Science teacher Dean Baird.  Includes links to physics songs, physics news, and more! Go to the sidebar and check out all of the labels from past posts; I was interested in gender equity, since my Master’s thesis was about effectively teaching physics so that it will appeal to young women.

If you are interested in technology integration in the physics classroom, check out this blog entry from Charlie Schofield at Edutopia. 
Reflections on the dynamics of teaching

Teacher Frank Noschese writes thoughtful and informative entries. He also links to useful resources, such as physics applets and animations. The blog is a lively community with responses to questions from readers and back-and-forth comments discussing posts.

Check out this link to his photo a day from the 180 Photo Project. What a cool idea! They are on Day 10 and you can follow throughout the year.

That is all for now. I will post more comments on the physics blogs I follow in the future. 

In addition, you can check out the Top 50 Science Teacher Blogs

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Newton's Cradle Sneak Peek

Last week, I started filming the first video in my new grant-supported series of physics videos. 

The topic for the first video is Newton's Cradle. Not just a toy for bored corporate employees sitting at their desks, Newton's Cradle can be used to teach many physics concepts, including Newton's Third Law and conservation of momentum in collisions.

 As soon as editing is complete, I will post the video in full on this blog! 

Films will be posted on the new YouTube page AAPT Films as well. 

The Goal: As I mentioned previously, the goal is to create 24 professional development physics videos which will be featured on the AAPT national website. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Tuning Forks Video and Article Posted on CoolStuff!

My tuning forks video is now posted on Arbor Scientific's CoolStuff blog. The blog entry includes a link to the video and the article I wrote describing each demo, as well as images like the one below.


If you want to know about the top ten demonstrations with a tuning fork, then check it out! It will be five minutes of your time well-spent!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Top Five Items to Add to Your Lab

Often on this blog, I will be including Quick Tips for Teachers. 

Today’s entry is about the Top 5 Items to Add to Your Lab.

These are tools that, if you don’t have them already, you should obtain right away, and learn how to use them.

1.    Polarizers

2.  Plasma Ball—Check out my video about top ten demos with a plasma ball if you haven’t already.

3.  Cathode Ray Tube

4.  Oscilloscope—ask the physics techs at your local university if they have any old oscilloscopes they’d like to donate to your school.

5.  Electronic Keyboard

The last one may sound unexpected, but I often use an electronic keyboard as a tone generator. This tool is very useful for teaching about sound waves, among other things.

I hope these top five items enhance your teaching in the physics lab and lead to many enriching labs and demos.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Announcing...Winner of Meggers Project Award!

Big news, I just found out that my video project has been awarded the Meggers Project Award by the American Institute of Physics. With the funds awarded, I will make 24 professional development videos highlighting interactive ways for physics teachers to teach physics! These videos will later be featured on the national website for the American Association of Physics Teachers

I have been making videos for the past few years, but this  support allows me to make more videos and up the quality of my videos.

Here is a bit more about the award (as quoted from the website): 

"The William F. and Edith R. Meggers Project Award of the American Institute of Physics is a biennial award designed to fund projects for the improvement of high-school physics teaching in the United States. The Award was made possible by an endowment created by the gift of a stamp and coin collection from William F. and Edith R. Meggers to the American Institute of Physics."

 Thank you very much, William F. Meggers! I am very excited and already hard at work on the first video.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

James Clerk Maxwell

Recently, I went on a scavenger hunt around Edinburgh, Scotland in search of the birthplace of James Clerk Maxwell. Along the way, I visited the Royal Society of Scotland, which was a short walk from where Maxwell was born at 14 India St. 

I also visited the statue of James Clerk Maxwell, complete with his dog by his side. Along the side of the statue, his legacy was written--in the form of his four equations.

 With these equations, Maxwell united electricity and magnetism in a complete way and discovered that light was an electromagnetic wave as a prediction of his theory. His equations went on to predict that all electromagnetic waves travel at the same speed, the speed of light, regardless of frequency.   

Maxwell’s equations finally united the fields of Electricity and Magnetism.  Before Maxwell, the idea that magnetism could generate electricity (Faraday’s Law) was not stated in a clear mathematical language.  Beyond this, the equations added a new term that predicted that when an electric field is changing, a magnetic field would be produced – a new and original idea!

 Like Newton, Maxwell's contributions reach into all fields of physics. He applied similar mathematical prowess to the theory of color vision (he made the first color photograph), Saturn’s rings, and the statistical mechanics of ideal gases.  Maxwell was also an experimentalist and a delighted observer of the world around him. He loved rainbows and observing natural phenomena. One of my favorite stories about Maxwell describes him on a sunny day. He saw ice crystals forming atop a pond, and the sun was reflecting a rainbow. These simple moments fueled the curiosity of one of history's most significant physicists and mathematicians.

 During his life, Maxwell won many awards for his work, although he is much less well-known to the general public than Einstein or Newton.  This may be because it takes physics knowledge and sophistication to truly appreciate his contributions--many physicists value his work as highly. Feynman noted that “From a long view of the history of mankind, seen from, say, ten thousand years from now, there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell's discovery of the laws of electrodynamics. The American Civil War will pale into provincial insignificance in comparison with this important scientific event of the same decade.”

 Maxwell was a member of the prestigious Royal Society in London. He was also a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and considered himself a Scotsman, although he lived in London for much of his life and even worked at the Cavendish LaboratoryMaxwell took on a project chronicling the reclusive Henry Cavendish's electrical research. And he literally wrote the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on atoms. He even predicted (correctly, I might add) that Saturn's rings are made of innumerable individual bodies, winning the Adams Prize in 1856.  

Today, when you are listening to the radio or using cell phone signals, remember that all of electricity is described by Maxwell's equations.

To find out more about James Clerk Maxwell or to arrange a visit, check out the website of the James Clerk Maxwell Foundation. 

Stay the coming weeks, I will review my favorite Maxwell biography.  

the streets of Edinburgh

Edinburgh appears much like it would in Maxwell's day. The entire Old Town and New Town are preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

Below, a view of the Pentland Hills over rooftops

Above, the mighty Edinburgh Castle

Above, the Salisbury Crags near Arthur's Seat, an extinct volcano

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Schlieren Photography

Schlieren Photography - First Attempt 

Have you ever found yourself calling around the state of California in search of an expert mirror maker? 

Or taking apart a telescope just to retrieve the concave mirror inside? 

Probably not, but those were two steps I took on the long journey of setting up my Schlieren photography demo and creating this video. The video is called my "First Attempt" because I hope to create more videos using Schlieren Photography in the future. 

I had to set up this demo several times before it was successful, but if you watch the video, I think you will agree it was worth the effort.

So, how does it work? A point source of light is reflected in a concave telescope mirror. The changes in air density bend the light. In the last scene, a blue filter helps when it is halfway across the lens. 

You can read more about Schlieren Photography at this NASA website. The article includes a bit of history and interesting images.

If you enjoyed the piano music in the video, it is by Mario Systems, a project created in collaboration with my siblings. The piano is played by Chris Lincoln and Bonnie Lincoln, my brother and sister, and produced by me. More songs can be heard here

Top Ten Best Plasma Ball Demos

You have a plasma ball in your lab, now what should you do with it? 

Check out this video I made to find out about demos and what you and your students can learn from each simple yet engaging demo. Most physical science standards require that students understand plasma as the fourth state of matter. 

What is a plasma ball? Well, by my definition, it is a safe and engaging tool for studying high voltages in the electric field.

One sample demo is the following: The electric field can be investigated with a small neon bulb or diode. If you bring it close to the plasma ball, it will light up! There are nine more interesting demos included in the video. What are you waiting for? Just go watch it!

Arbor Scientific also featured this video on their blog and you can watch it on their YouTube channel as well. If you want to learn about the demos in writing, go read the article at the Arbor Scientific Cool Stuff blog.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Dog Vision

This video features my scientific answer to the common question: “Can dogs see in color?” with information about color receptors in human and canine eyes.

If you watch, you will learn about a simple demo that allows you, too, to have dog vision.

Starring two gorgeous dogs, Trisha and Turko, you won’t want to miss this one!

I created this video for a contest hosted by 60 SecondScience. They have both student and adult video contests with International and Australian categories.

At the Prime Meridian

While visiting London in June of 2013, I decided to cross the river in order to visit the land of the Prime Meridian, Greenwich, England. As you know, the time zones of the world are set by Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) (Greenwich was chosen as Prime Meridian of the World officially in 1884). 

At the time this location was chosen, London was a busy and accomplished city—to see the stars one must go across the River Thames to Greenwich, where the Royal Observatory was built. When boats set out on their journeys, they set their clocks by Greenwich Mean Time.

After a long day at the Natural History Museum near Kensington Gardens, I headed toward Greenwich. You can arrive in Greenwich by train or ferry—I chose the train, and then ran the rest of the way to the museum, just for fun. Running is not required, the train station is an easy walk away. While the museum was closed when I arrive, I still enjoyed my trip. 

Here I am by the Prime Meridian

 Greenwich Park is a beautiful open green space, peaceful and enjoyable after the busy streets of London.

If you are in London, it is easy to miss Greenwich with all of the other museums and day trips available (like Cambridge, Oxford, Bath, etc.), but take my word for it, it is worth the trek, even for a short visit.