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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Cloud in a Bottle

A 5-gallon bottle containing air and water vapor is slightly pressurized; a sudden release of the pressure cools the vapor, forming a cloud.

The bottle is a heavy Pyrex carboy with tooled mouth. A one-holed rubber stopper fits the mouth and is air-tight. A meter of Tygon tubing is fitted to a short tube in the rubber stopper.

The bottle is kept stopped and wet, and should work off the shelf. If the bottle is dry, spray about 10 ml of distillled water inside.

To demonstrate cloud formation, fit the stopper to the bottle and apply pressure with the lungs. Blow into the...

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Dippy Duck

Evaporation of water on duck's head cools vapor inside causing low pressure, etc.

How it works:

Dippy Duck is a small heat engine consisting of a hollow glass barbell with opposite ends able to seesaw about a knife edge pivot. One end of the barbell is filled with a high vapor pressure liquid. The other end is empty on the inside and coated with absorbent flocking on the outside.

When the flocking is wet, evaporative cooling reduces the air pressure inside the empty end of the barbell, causing the liquid at the other end to get sucked up into it. As the liquid rises...

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Thermal Expansion

Brass ball doesn't fit through brass ring until ring is heated.

What it shows:

Most solids (see Comments) expand when heated due to increased atomic and lattice vibrations. In this demo, a brass ring expands when heated to let a previously too small a ball pass cleanly through.

How it works:

The apparatus consists of a brass ring on a handle (figure 1), attached by a chain to a brass ball. Demonstrate that the ball is too large to pass through the ring, then heat the ring over a blue Bunsen flame for about a minute. The...

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Spherical Blackboard

What it shows:

You can use a spherical blackboard for many things, including the teaching of geographical coordinates, as a model for a closed Universe, or simply as a mathematical shape.

In the non-Euclidean geometry of the sphere, a circle will have a circumference greater than 2πr and an area greater than πr2. A triangle’s angles will add to more than 180°, and two parallel lines, called Great Circles, will converge.

A Universe with a density parameter Ω greater than unity will have too much mass to overcome its own gravitational...

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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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Faraday Induction

What it shows:

The mathematical description of electromagnetic induction as formulated by Maxwell and Faraday requires two different sets of equations to calculate the induced voltage, depending on whether the coil is stationary and the magnet moving or vice versa. In fact, as this demonstration shows, the voltage is the same as predicted by the two sets of equations.

How it works:

The apparatus is identical to demonstration Faraday's Law, and is described in detail there. Briefly, it consists of a galvanometer hooked up to a...

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Uranium Block

What it shows:

This block of uranium is of great historical significance -- it is a remnant of the WWII German Atomic Bomb Project. It was brought to Harvard by Prof. Edwin C. Kemble, Physics Dept. Chairman and also Deputy Science Director of the ALSOS mission in 1945. The American ALSOS mission was an intelligence effort to discover the extent of German progress toward atomic weapon development and its ultimate purpose was to secure all the uranium ore the Germans had confiscated during the war and finally close the books on the German program to build an atom...

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Roller Coaster Potential

What it shows:

Potential energy curve with potential barrier illustrates electron-atom, atom-atom or ion-ion interactions.

How it works:

This is a one dimensional potential well model with a potential hill that can be used to represent several scenarios. The wooden model is made of a sandwich of three strips of plywood (1/4"-1/2"-1/4") forming the cross section as shown in figure 1. A 1" ball bearing fits snugly enough into the groove that it won't fly out when it hits the barrier.

figure 1. The roller...

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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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Periodic Potential

What it shows:

Ball bearings simulate atoms in a lattice sitting at local potential minimums. Giving them energy excites the atoms and they oscillate about their equilibrium positions in these wells; only with large amounts of energy can they be truly dislocated.

How it works:

A piece of wood 100 × 25 × 2cm acts as the ‘potential’ structure of the lattice. The atoms, 3cm diameter ball bearings sit at the bottom of a cosine varying potential cut to about 10cm depth in the wood by a jig saw.The balls are held in the 2-dimensional...

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