Share Email Print
cover

Proceedings Paper • Open Access

Hands-on physics displays for undergraduates
Author(s): Carl W. Akerlof

Paper Abstract

Initiated by Frank Oppenheimer in 1969, the Exploratorium in San Francisco has been the model for hands-on science museums throughout the world. The key idea has been to bring people with all levels of scientific background in contact with interesting and attractive exhibits that require the active participation of the visitor. Unfortunately, many science museums are now forced to cater primarily to very young audiences, often 8 years old or less, with predictable constraints on the intellectual depth of their exhibits. To counter this trend, the author has constructed several hands-on displays for the University of Michigan Physics Department that demonstrate: (1) magnetic levitation of pyrolytic graphite, (2) the varied magnetic induction effects in aluminum, copper and air, (3) chaotic motion of a double pendulum, (4) conservation of energy and momentum in a steel ball magnetic accelerator, (5) the diffraction pattern of red and green laser pointer beams created by CDs and DVDs, (6) a magnetic analog of the refraction of light at a dielectric boundary and (7) optical rotation of light in an aqueous fructose solution. Each of these exhibits can be constructed for something like $1000 or less and are robust enough to withstand unsupervised public use. The dynamic behavior of these exhibits will be shown in accompanying video sequences. The following story has a history that goes back quite a few years. In the late 70’s, I was spending time at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center accompanied by my family that included our two grade school children. Needless to say, we much enjoyed weekend excursions to all sorts of interesting sites in the Bay Area, especially the Exploratorium, an unusual science museum created by Frank Oppenheimer that opened in 1969. The notion that exhibits would be designed specifically for “hands-on” interactions was at that time quite revolutionary. This idea captivated a number of people everywhere including a friend in Ann Arbor, Cynthia Yao. With a core group of a few dozen people, Cynthia convinced the City of Ann Arbor to allow free use of an old firehouse. The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum opened its doors to the public in 1982 and remains a thriving institution to this day.

Paper Details

Date Published: 17 July 2014
PDF: 5 pages
Proc. SPIE 9289, 12th Education and Training in Optics and Photonics Conference, 92892W (17 July 2014); doi: 10.1117/12.2070782
Show Author Affiliations
Carl W. Akerlof, Univ. of Michigan (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 9289:
12th Education and Training in Optics and Photonics Conference
Manuel F. P. C. Martins Costa; Mourad Zghal, Editor(s)

© SPIE. Terms of Use
Back to Top