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Bouncing Light Beam

What it shows:

As a simulation of atmospheric refraction, this demonstration shows the gradual and continuous bending of light due to a gradient in the optical density of the medium. In this case the variable refracting medium is a tank of sugar water with a vertical gradient in the concentration of sugar and a HeNe laser provides the light beam. It can be used as a model of mirage formation (except that the direction of increasing refractive index is in the opposite direction) or even as a representation of the refraction of seismic waves through the Earth's...

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Optical Analog of Uncertainty Principle

What it shows:

In the Heisenberg uncertainty relation, the momentum of a particle cannot be known with any greater accuracy than h/∆x where h is Planck's constant and ∆x is the uncertainty in spatial position. The more you localize its spatial position, the less certain you become about its momentum. An optical illustration for this is the diffraction of light though a slit.

How it works:

For a laser beam, the transverse momentum is pretty well known (i.e. it's zero) but you have no localization of its spatial x coordinate. You...

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Thoron Decay

What it shows:

The very first determination of a half-life for a radioactive decay was made by Rutherford. 1 In a study of the properties of thorium emanation, he found that the intensity of the radiations fell off with time in a geometric progression. That historically important result is reproduced in this demonstration experiment. The gas thoron, or thorium emanation, is an isotope of radon (86Rn220) which decays by α emission and has a half life of 55.6 seconds. 2 Using an emanation electroscope, we observe the...

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Kepler's Universe

Model of the solar system based on the five perfect solids.

What it shows:

Kepler attempted to describe the orbits of the planets in terms of the five regular polyhedrons. The polyhedrons, inscribed within one another define the distances of the planets from the Sun. They act as (invisible) supporting structures for the spheres on which the planets move. The order of the solids outwards from the Sun are the octahedron, icosahedron, dodecahedron, tetrahedron, and hexahedron.

How it works:

A contemporary illustration of...

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Cooking Ice vs. Cooking Eggs

An egg size piece of clear ice is dropped into a hot frying pan, with hissing and melting and steaming from solid to liquid to gas . An egg is carefully dropped into another hot frying pan, and it transforms from liquid to solid.

A small water bottle in the freezer overnight will freeze solid.  Cutting off the plastic and breaking the ice with a hammer will generate the egg size piece of ice.

Vector Sum of Forces

Magnetic blackboard mechanics with spring balances and weights.

What it shows:

Solve a problem in composition of concurrent forces by graphical or trigonometric means.

How it works:

The blackboard mechanics set1 includes apparatus to demonstrate most of the common laws of statics and some dynamics. The pieces of apparatus are held on the blackboard by magnets and, although not large, are fairly visible in the lecture hall. A booklet with a few dozen suggested demonstration experiments is included in the set.
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Orbiter

Ball on string orbits with increasing speed as string is shortened.

What it shows:

An object moving in a circular orbit of radius r has an angular momentum given by:

L = r × mv = mr2ω.

A simple way to show conservation of angular momentum is a ball on a string, whirled around your head. As you change the length of the string, the ball's orbital speed changes to conserve angular momentum.

How it works:

The orbiter consists of a meter length of cord with a wooden ball at one end and a wooden anchor at the other. The cord passes...

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Fracture Strength of Chalk

What it shows:

This demonstration allows you to compare chalk’s compressive strength with its tensile strength.

How it works:

We use railroad chalk, which although being softer and harder to work, is nice and big and easy to see. A sample is placed in each of the two types of testing assembly (details in Setting it Up), and loads carefully applied. Railroad chalk has a tensile strength of 195kNm-2 ± 30kNm-2 (a load of 2.5 to 3.5kg) and a compressive strength of 500kNm-2 ± 65kNm-2 ( a load of 7 to 9kg).

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