Friday, December 5, 2014

Physics Day: NSTA Presentation Description

Today is Physics Day at NSTA! Don't miss it! Information on my presentation is below:

NSTA Presentation: Electricity Videos

Over the years, I have created many movies featuring original demos about electricity and magnetism. 

Today at 3pm I am presenting these ideas at NSTA/CSTA in Long Beach, CA. I have compiled my videos on these topics into a list as a resource for teachers. See below:

Electric Field Via Crystals

5 Rules of the Electric Field

5 Rules of Conductors

Top Ten Plasma Globe Experiments

Links to Videos:

These videos are embedded above:

5 Rules of the Electric Field:

Top 10 Plasma Globe Experiments:

Watch these videos on YouTube:

Lettuce Seed Electric Fields:

10 Ways to See the Electric Field 1:

10 Ways to See the Electric Field 2:

Physics of the Leiden Jar:

Parallel & Series Circuits:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

AP Physics Video Project

This weekend I am visiting the Physics Department at Davidson College in North Carolina. I have designed a unit about thermodynamics with a focus on ideal gases, and I am shooting videos to accompany the unit. 

This unit will help students learn with the newly redesigned AP Physics programs that started this year. 

The videos include a Boyle's Law demo and how to draw and understand a pressure/volume diagram.

And I even found some historical physics equipment!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Making Graphs: The Jackalope Story

This video tells a funny story while teaching students about making graphs and exhibits how to graph distance.

 I like it because it helps students understand that graphs are not just numbers and lines--they must be interpreted and then they tell a story with the data. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

SCAAPT Fall Meeting on Nov 8

The Fall meeting of the Southern California Chapter of the American Association of Physics Teachers will take place at the University of Southern California on November 8, 2014.


Below, I will highlight some of the exciting presentations. The program includes three talks about the Next Generation Science Standards.

The morning workshop requires an RSVP:

8:15: Morning Workshop - Mark Hughes,
"Modeling Physics" 

Modeling Physics is a research based and internationally renowned pedagogical method of physics instruction that is aligned with CCSS and NGSS. Qualified and experienced instructors are well versed in all aspects of instruction and are available for staff in-service.

9:25: Contributed talk: Roberto Lopez, USC,
“USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory”

The USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory is a student run design team building the most advanced rockets any university has created. Our current goal is to fly our rocket, Traveler, past the Von Karman line making us the first university lab to do so.

9:40: Invited Talk: Chris Lowe, Shark Expert, CSU Long Beach, "Physics for Fishers”

What does physics have to do with overfishing? For many fishes, an understanding of mixed gas laws may be the key to their ultimate survival. Many benthic fishes use an internal air sac, called a swim bladder to regulate their buoyancy at depth. When caught and rapidly brought to the surface, the gas inside this bladder expands faster than it can be offloaded via the blood resulting in “barotrauma.” The “Physics for Fishers” program involves high school students who use their knowledge of biology and physics to develop educational materials and products for fishers so they understand what is happening to the fish they release.

11:10: Invited Talk:- Maria Simani, California Science Project: “Introduction to Next Generation Science Standards”

In this presentation, participants will become familiar with the development of the Next Generation Science Standards, their structure, and their vision. Implications for classroom instruction will be discussed and resources will be distributed.

As usual, we will have lunch, Show and Tell time, and an order of magnitude contest with door prizes!

1:15: Invited talk - Jeff Orlinsky, California Science Teacher Association,
“The Next Generation Science Standards: What Happened to the First Generation?”

This presentation will cover the Basic components of the CA NGSS. The CA NGSS are based on three dimensions (scientific and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts). Along with these dimensions are alignment with the CA Common Core Standards, a list of science practices and performance expectations. The presenter will help navigate the audience through these changes and highlight some of the major differences between the content standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. Also included in the discussion will be the State proposed timeline for implementation of the new standards.

2:05: Invited talk: – Dean Gilbert, Orange County Department of Education,
“Implementation Ideas for NGSS”

As Science Coordinator for the OCDE, I have already been training teachers on implementing NGSS.  In this talk I both introduce the Next Generation Science Standards and suggest methods for their implementation.

These are only a few of the awesome sessions. We hope to see you there!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Inclines Video

Watch my latest video for AAPT Films (above). You can help your students understand a topic that gives many students trouble: Inclines. Many students struggle with learning inclines, so how can we introduce this concept convincingly? Learn how in the next seven minutes!

Use experiment to help students understand inclines!

You can start by showing students a frictionless situation. In this case, the gravity that is pulling it down the hill is weakened by the flatness of the slope. 


The acceleration due to gravity is weakened by a factor that depends on the angle.  Can you imagine a function of theta, that starts off at zero then grows to its maximum at 90 degrees?  Why yes, its sine.

I do this lab in my introduction to trigonometry unit.   It’s

 called diluting acceleration


When it comes to forces on inclines, here are a few tips.

You will want to introduce this AFTER you have discussed 

friction on a flat surface, and of course Newton’s Laws, 

especially Newton’s 3rd Law.  That’s because the normal 

force is often an equal and opposite reaction to other forces.  


In most cases, friction opposes motion, so if the block was 

sliding down the hill, the friction – kinetic friction- would be 

up the hill, and if the block was sliding up the hill, the 

friction would be down the hill.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

SCAPTI Photos and Highlights

I am posting photos from a successful Southern California Advanced Physics Teaching Institute (SCAPTI) workshop. We had two week-long sessions this summer with around 40 teachers in attendance, about 20 at each session. Each teacher received an excellent goodie bag full of lab supplies and a thick binder filled with useful curriculum. 

Already looking forward to next summer! Here's the flier.

A spinning aquarium demonstrates 
centripetal force

Hands-on Laboratory Instruction: 
in this case, momentum collision with photogates

Participants work in small groups 
and actually get to do the labs. 

Several demonstrations explained, 
as well as the physics behind them.

Two photogates can report to a single terminal

There is often time for one-on-one instruction on 

confusing ideas and finer details.

James Lincoln, MS, MEd, explains how

 torque is proportionate to radius.

Participants immediately apply the idea of torque to an introductory experiment.

The units of torque are worked out, answering a specific question.  It turns out they are not Joules, but Joules per radian.

Information on the next upcoming workshop will be found at

Monday, September 1, 2014

UV Light: Demos and Experiments

Ultraviolet Light: Demos & Experiments Video is organized into several sections, including Absorbing UV Light, Fluorescence and Ultraviolet Light, Three Colors of Ultraviolet Light (UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C), The Discovery of UV Light, the Mercury Spectrum, and Phosphorescence. 

Through this video, you will learn about UV (ultraviolet) light, and it might save your life. Why? Ultraviolet light is more energetic than regular light—we sometimes call it “ionizing radiation” because it has the power to ionize the electrons in molecules, like DNA, and cause damage. In the video, surely you will be interested to see an original sunblock demo!

Absorbing UV Light

UV light is invisible to us, but its energy can make other objects glow. You will see white socks glowing under UV light, but it is actually the detergent residue that glows, not the socks themselves.

It doesn’t always take UV light to make things glow. These liquids [below] will glow under a blue light, but not all will glow under a red light.

Blue and violet lights are different from other colors, because they are more energetic, higher in frequency. Their higher frequency light is absorbed and re-emited as lower energy light.

These plastic beads are sensitive to ultraviolet light, and below you will see them glowing and colorful and UV light and in sunlight.

However, you will see that under a pane of window glass [below], the beads no longer change color.

Flowers Transformed--Through an Insect's Eyes

The video is almost ten minutes long which makes it a double video, power-packed with information. You will want to pause and re-watch segments and demos. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New Physics Teacher Workshop: August 23, 2014

If you are a new teacher or a career-change teacher looking

to learn interactive teaching methods, then the New Physics

Teacher Workshop is for you!

You can start the new school year right with innovative

ideas for labs and demos. While workshop leaders  

sometimes lecture briefly, most of your time will be spent on 

hands-on activities. 

At NPTW, you get to try out the lab, so you can experience 

what students will experience. 

You might also receive excellent handouts to use with your 

students and you will be directed 

to other resources that will help you become the best physics 

teacher you can be.

And let's not forget the awesome goodie bags! I can't tell you 

everything that will be in the bag yet, but if you want a 

Newton's Cradle AND you want to brush up on Mechanics 

and Heat/Thermodynamics topics, then come to the 

workshop on Saturday. 

James Lincoln, spending some quality time
 with an array of Newton's cradles.

Make sure to RSVP email James 

Lincoln (SCAAPT President and one of the workshop 


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Topics: Mechanics & Heat/Thermodynamics
To RSVP, email James Lincoln

Friday, July 4, 2014

Leiden Jar Physics Video: Lightning in a Bottle

The capacitor's history begins with the Leiden jar. Benjamin Franklin observed that electricity acts like a fluid, and so, in order to capture the electric fluid, an experiment was conducted at the University of Leiden

In the original experiment, a glass jar, held in the hand, had its inner lining coated with metal and this was charged electrically. Upon touching the inside with the other hand, the experimenter was surprised to receive a horrible shock! The electricity was saved in the jar like a liquid. This is the original "lightning in a bottle" experiment. You've heard of this phrase, right?

These days, the experimenter's hand has been replaced with an outside metal coating on the Leiden jar. The discharging hand has been replaced with a discharging wand. 

Image of a modern Leiden jar being discharged safely 

Most Leiden jars found in the high school classroom are of the plastic, dissectable variety, but many teachers do not know how to use them to their full potential or even safely.

                     A disassembled Leiden jar can be reassembled without loss of charge

In this video, I demonstrate how to safely dissect the Leiden jar and reassemble it, while maintaining the charge. This is one of the most surprising demonstrations in electrostatics.   

Infrared Physics Experiments and Labs

Infrared light was discovered by the simple means of a prism by William Herschel in 1800. The different colors warmed by different amounts, with red being the second-warmest. Red was second only to invisible infrared light, which Herschel discovered by moving the thermometer to a place below the red, where he did not think there would be any light. But there was--infrared light.

A temperature sensitive liquid crystal sheet provides a modern alternative to the thermometer and prism approach (also shown on left)

Many people confused this result with the association of infrared light with heat. Infrared light is actually a focusing effect from the prism. There is a higher energy density because the colors on the red side are squished together. We now know that blue light is more energetic per photon. 

In this video, I wanted to address the history, while also providing fun and practical experiments and demonstrations for the high school classroom.


The most freely available source of infrared light is the TV remote control. Somewhat less common is the thermographic camera, but I was lucky enough to obtain one from Fluke. 

Why should we learn about infrared light? People often have trouble recognizing that their senses are limited, that the human body and human consciousness are not enough to study the natural world fully. 

Infrared light is a good example of a phenomenon beyond human sensation. It is a captivating phenomenon that is within our reach to study in our science classrooms. 

Students will be interested to learn about the infrared sensory organs of snakes. 

Drawing an ice beard

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Important Women in Physics, Part 3: Lise Meitner

The Physicist Who Explained
 Nuclear Fisson: Lise Meitner

You’ve heard of fission, the splitting of a nucleus. We imagine the nucleus of an atom, for example, uranium, as a droplet of jelly or water that can split—fission, it is called. Nuclear fission. The broken droplets are necessarily smaller nuclei. This liquid droplet model and even the name fission arose from the mind of Lise Meitner, an under-celebrated physicist.

 Lise Meitner was born in Austria and earned her Ph.D. from the University of Vienna in 1906 (women were first admitted to this university in 1901). She lived and worked in Berlin until she was forced to flee during WWII. Before she fled, she worked with chemist Otto Hahn at the Max Planck Institute (then named the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute); however, due to prejudice against women, they were forced to set up a lab off-site in a carpenter’s shop. Often during her early career, Meitner had to work as a guest researcher instead of being a full professor, because of prejudices against women. Yet in later years, she was the top authority on the nucleus and even Einstein would refer to her as “our Madame Curie.”

During this time period, Meitner was doing pioneering work--and not just because she was a woman in physics--she was designing and performing breakthrough experiments . She was at the forefront, the cutting edge of research—radioactivity and radiochemistry were new fields, only barely understood.

Meitner studying, the only woman among men

Later, by 1912, she was more accepted and finally became a member of the Institute, then director of the physics department and she and Hahn became joint directors of the Institute in 1917. Her area of interest was radioactive emissions. Together, she and Hahn were one of two teams credited with isolating the element protactinium (so named because it decays to become actinium). Later, she went on to discover Thorium-d (the stable Th 208 isotope). While in Berlin, Meitner worked as an assistant to Max Planck at the Berlin Institute for Theoretical Physics and sat in on his and many of Ludwig Boltzmann's classes.

Meitner's lab partner, Otto Hahn was a rather enlightened gentlmen for the time period and not afraid to work with Lise because she was a woman. In 1938, when Meitner was forced to flee Germany, Meitner continued to correspond with Hahn in secret. She moved to Stockholm and conducted research at the Nobel Institute for Physics. Even when she was exiled from Germany and Austria, Hahn continued to correspond with her in secret. Meitner's importance in the process of discovering nuclear fission cannot be overstated. She could explain and mathematically verify the process in ways that others could not. 

The idea of the nucleus splitting was not something people were expecting.  The experiments involved shooting a moderated (slow-moving) neutron into a nucleus to produce heavier elements.  The conjecture that the nucleus could rupture is due to Meitner.  This conjecture she conveyed to Otto Hahn, who for his publications alone received the Nobel Prize.  It is not fair to blame Hahn as stealing credit however; he had to conceal Meitner’s contributions in order to keep her location a secret (their collaborations and her escape were illegal).

 How far reaching is the influence of the Meitner Model?  Time and again you have probably seen the animation of the nucleus splitting. What is missing is a caption giving due credit:  “The Meitner Model of Nuclear Fission.”   Why don’t we call it that? We have the Bohr Model of the Atom, the Planck Constant, Kepler’s Laws, and Einstein’s Relativity. Why doesn’t Meitner receive credit each time nuclear fission is referenced? If a man would have discovered it, credit would be given where it is due.

Hahn and Meitner, Image Credit: Wiki Commons

In her later years, Meitner retired to Cambridge, England (1960). Finally, in 1966, she was given the Enrico Fermi Award (along with her collaborators Fritz Strassman and Otto Hahn). Famed Italian American Physicist Enrico Fermi discovered that uranium could be transmuted into other heavier elements.  But Meitner explained that there was another process of the nucleus splitting like a water drop.  It and it is her model that we still use today. Nobody will ever  see a nucleus, but Meitner gave us the picture in our minds.  It is to this physicist that we are indebted.  

Lise Meitner and President Truman

Learn More:

Watch the presentation “Overlooked Achievement: The Life of Lise Meitner” on the Research Channel by Ruth Lewin Sime, author of LiseMeitner: A Life in Physics

Read Pythagoras' Trousers:

 pages 190-200 mention Lise Meitner

Monday, May 19, 2014

Light Up Your Day with the Study of Spectroscopy

Check out my most recently published video: "Behind the Scenes with Light and Color: Ten Great Demos" featured on Arbor Scientific's CoolStuff blog.

 This video is 12 minutes long and months in the making. It features a tool, the RSpec Explorer, that allows us to bring spectroscopy into the classroom and involve students, all at once, all together, in the study of spectroscopy. Students can see the light spectrum in many different ways using the RSpec Explorer, a digital spectrometer that is a camera that can see lots of cool things. I give you lots of tips about how to use this tool in the video.

 The video features many demos, including  one that shows a fundamental idea: white light is made of many different colors. Students do not just have to understand this on abstract level, but they can see it!