Microscope Resolution Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What it shows:  The wave nature of light limits our ability to see the very small. Application of the Rayleigh limit of resolution tells us that the size of the smallest objects one can resolve under a microscope is approximately equal to the wavelength of light. The optical limits of a microscope are demonstrated as one attempts to resolve 1 μm diameter spheres (about twice the wavelength of light) — one sees spots of light surrounded by diffraction rings rather than sharply defined spheres, similar to the 3rd image (from: Cagnet/Francon/Thrierr, Atlas of Optical… Read more about Microscope Resolution

Air Table Center-of-Mass Motion Monday, May 2, 2016

What it shows:  Two bodies, rotating about each other, rotate about their common center-of-mass (COM). The COM exhibits uniform motion (or none at all) regardless of what the two bodies are doing.

How it works:  The "bodies" are 4-1/2" diameter acrylic disks that float on a cushion of air on a large air table.1 Presently we have three versions ready to go. (1) The first version has two disks connected by means of a 12"- long plastic ruler. A large "dot" at the center of the ruler marks the COM. The disks can be made to simply spin about… Read more about Air Table Center-of-Mass Motion

Vortex Shedding in Air Friday, April 8, 2016

A thin wire, moving through the air, is made to vibrate in the audio range at the vortex shedding frequency.

What it shows:  When air flows around an object, there is a range of flow velocities for which a von Karman vortex street is formed. The shedding of these vortices imparts a periodic force on the object. The force is quite small and not enough to accelerate the object to any significant amount, especially if the object is relatively massive. If the situation is such that the object can vibrate about a fixed position, we have the possibility of simple harmonic… Read more about Vortex Shedding in Air

Pulse Reflections in a Coax Cable Thursday, February 25, 2016

What it shows:  A voltage pulse, injected into a long coaxial cable, will travel down the length of the cable and undergo a reflection at the other end. The nature of that reflection depends on how the cable is terminated at the other end. Shorting the cable at the far end produces an inverted reflection. With no termination (an "open" end), the reflected pulse is not inverted. When the impedance of the termination matches that of the cable, there is no reflection.

Knowing the length of the cable and noting the amount of time it takes the pulse to come back allows… Read more about Pulse Reflections in a Coax Cable

Reverse Sprinkler Friday, December 18, 2015:

What it Shows

Inspired by Richard Feynman's story in his 1985 book (pp 63-65), Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman, the demonstration answers the question "which direction does a lawn sprinkler spin if water enters the nozzle rather than being expelled from the nozzle?" The reverse sprinkler spins in the opposite direction of a "normal" sprinkler. "Dissipative effects" has been the hand-waving reason for the past 30 years, but the real reason why it spins in the reverse direction is far from obvious (see Comments, below). It turns out that a sprinkler designed to be "truly… Read more about Reverse Sprinkler

Walk-In Faraday Cage

What it shows:

A lecturer's faith in the principle that an electric field cannot exist inside a charged conductor is put to the test using a Faraday cage that is large enough to sit in.

How it works:

The lecturer (or some volunteer) climbs the three steps and sits upon a plain wooden chair. Their assistant pulls the mesh door closed and fastens it. A Van de Graaff, whose dome is in contact with the cage, begins to charge itself and the cage up to a high voltage. The person inside is oblivious to the large amount of charge now… Read more about Walk-In Faraday Cage

High Road, Low Road

Which road is faster? A kinematics concept Puzzler.

high low road

What it shows:

Horizontal and vertical motions are independent of each other.

How it works:

Two balls, starting with the same initial horizontal velocity, take two different paths: the… Read more about High Road, Low Road

TV Color Perception

What it shows:

The full spectrum of colors (including white) in a television picture is produced by the additive mixing of only three colors: red, green, and blue.

How it works:

In a color television tube, three separate electron beams are focused so as to strike the appropriate phosphor dot on the screen. By looking at the television screen under considerable magnification, one can clearly see that there are only three phosphors which are stimulated by the electron beam(s). The apparatus is diagrammed below.

Read more about TV Color Perception

Barton's Pendulum

Ten coupled pendulums of different lengths; shows resonance and phase.

What it shows:

All objects have a natural frequency of vibration or resonant frequency. If you force a system—in this case a set of pendulums—to oscillate, you get a maximum transfer of energy, i.e. maximum amplitude imparted, when the driving frequency equals the resonant frequency of the driven system. The phase relationship between the driver and driven oscillator is also related by their relative frequencies of oscillation.

How it works:

Barton's Pendulum… Read more about Barton's Pendulum

Nuclear Fission

What it shows:

In a nuclear reactor or atom bomb, a fissile material such as 235U can capture a neutron. The resulting unstable nucleus fragments into two smaller nuclei, releasing energy and several neutrons (a typical equation is given below). Each of these neutrons can in turn cause the fission of a 235U nucleus. If there is above a critical concentration of fissile material, this chain reaction will continue unaided, and if unregulated can result in a very loud bang.

n + 235U → 236U* → 141Ba + 92Kr + 3n… Read more about Nuclear Fission