Random Walk Model

What it shows:

A random walk is a mathematical model for the movement of a particle that is under the influence of some random or stochastic mechanism that affects its direction of movement. Physical situations that can be described by random walks include diffusion and Brownian motion.

How it works:

The board is a two dimensional random walk model consisting of a hexagonal array of corks, 1 11 to a side (331 corks in all), with each point of the hexagon given a number. The random walk begins from the center cork and...

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Potato Chip Calorimeter

A soda can with 50 ml of water is held over a burning potato chip of known mass. A thermocouple reads the temperature of the water, and its change, to estimate the energy content of the chip.

Other burnable foods include nuts, e.g. brazil nut, and other kinds of fried snack chips.

The heat transfer from burning chip to soda can bottom is only so good, and the temperature rise does not match that expected in the ideal case.

Liquid Nitrogen Marshmallows

A big insulated bowl is filled with liquid nitrogen and marshmallows, which when frozen, are eaten in spectacular fashion.

Regular size marshmallows. Use wooden spoons, big bowl with holes for draining. Push down the marshmallows in the liquid nitrogen and mix to evenly freeze. Serve to volunteers. 

Eaten with open mouth and exhaling slightly gives the effect of dragon's breath.

Spiral Galaxy

Hand held Plexiglass model of spiral galaxy.

What it shows:

Handy size model of a generic spiral galaxy to show salient features or to describe structure of the Milky Way

How it works:

The model is a 30cm diameter Plexiglass disc 1cm in thickness, with a Ping-pong ball stuck through the center to represent the nucleus. The spiral arms of the galaxy are sprayed on with white paint, and we've stuck on a "you are here" arrow pointing to the outer reaches of one of the spiral arms at the approximate position of the Sun in the...

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Jupiter's Satellites

Static model of satellite orbits.

What it shows:

Static 3-D model showing the orbital paths of Jupiter's satellites.

How it works:

The model marks the orbital paths of the Jovian satellites to a scale of 1.5cm = 106 km. This scale allows the orbit of the outermost satellite Sinope to fit within a 1m × 1m plywood base. The orbits of the outer 8 satellites are marked using loops of 2mm × 1mm spring steel supported to their correct heights by 5mm Plexiglas rods (Pasiphae rising to the greatest height of 42cm). The...

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Equatorial Ring

Model of Ptolemy's ring used to measure the length of the year.

What it shows:

This is a model of the ring and method used by Claudius Ptolemy (2nd century A.D., Alexandrian astronomer) to determine the length of a year.


How it works:

The ring is...

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Adiabatic Heating

Compression of gas within bicycle pump heats gas; alternatively, syringe PV=nRT (w/ Mac TC read-out).

What it shows:

An adiabatic process is one where no heat enters or leaves a system. Here we compress a gas adiabatically inside a bicycle pump. The work done on the gas increases its internal energy, so increasing its temperature in accordance with the first law of thermodynamics.

Increase in internal energy dU = dW the work done on the system

How it works:

Instead of allowing the air out of a bicycle pump we've...

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Bag of Lead Shot

Dropping bag containing lead turns gravitational potential energy to heat.

What it shows: 

A demonstration of the conversion of gravitational potential energy to heat energy. A bag of lead shot, repeatedly dropped to the ground, will heat up.

How it works: 

Lead has a sufficiently low specific heat capacity (128 J/kg/K) that a 5kg bag dropped five times from a height of 1.0m onto a rigid floor should increase in temperature by about 2K. The shot is contained in a bank deposit bag with reinforced...

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Supercooling of Water

Pure water cooled to below 273K without freezing; seeded to spontaneously crystallize.

What it shows:

A liquid can be taken to a temperature below its freezing point if it is cooled slowly and there are no nucleation sites for crystallization to begin. In this demonstration you can create a flask of liquid water at below 0°C that, when 'seeded' by the introduction of a nucleation site (in this case dry ice) will be instantaneously frozen.

How it works:

This is pretty much described in Setting it Up.


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Saddle Shape Universe

Curved space segment for open universe geometry.

What it shows:

Whether the Universe continues to expand forever or will collapse back in upon itself depends upon the amount of matter it contains. For a density parameter Ω less than unity the Universe will not have enough mass to collapse and will be in a state of perpetual expansion. In general relativity, the curvature of space is dependent upon the density of the Universe, and for Ω<1 the curvature is negative or hyperbolic. It can be represented two dimensionally (see Comments) by a saddle...

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Gravitational Field Surface

1m diameter rubber sheet acts as curved space for ball bearing masses.

What it shows:

In general relativity, gravity is replaced by a curved space geometry, where the curvature is determined by the presence and distribution of matter. Objects move in straight lines, or along geodesics, but because of the curvature of space, their paths will simulate the effect of gravitational attraction. This demo gives a two dimensional view of warped space.

How it works:

In this 2-D analog, a 1 meter diameter piece of dental dam forms a...

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Potential Well Orbiter

Orbital motion simulated by ball rolling on wooden potential well.

What it shows:

Motion in a central potential is demonstrated by a ball rolling on a circular 1/r curved surface.

How it works:

The 1/r potential well simulates the gravitational potential surrounding a point mass; a ball bearing moving in this potential follows a parabolic or elliptical orbit depending upon its initial trajectory and velocity. As it loses energy due to friction, the orbit decays and the ball spirals towards the centre of the well. You could...

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Fishtank TIR

What it shows:

A simple qualitative demonstration of total internal reflection using a laser beam.


How it works:

Using a fish tank suitably doped with a scattering agent (see Setting it Up), a ray of light from a laser beam can probe the water-air...

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Wheel & Axle Wavefront

wheel & axelWhat it shows:
A mechanical analogy of a wave front consisting of two wheels linked by an axle. It simulates refraction by rolling across a boundary between two surfaces having different rolling friction and thus altered propagation velocities.


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