by Edward Kluk
Dickinson State University, Dickinson ND


           A need for good, simple and quantitative experiments in teaching introductory physics on any level is commonly recognized. Using sonic rangers, photogates, fast photography etc. we certainly can help our students to understand basic physics laws. There are, however, two problems related with use of such equipment. This equipment is relatively expensive, and preparation of experiments takes a lot of time. A software for physics lab simulations is not cheap either and usually is oriented toward applications than investigation of fundamental laws.

          Looking at dynamics of applets (this applet is courtesy of JavaMachine) one can realize their potential as simulators of introductory physics lab experiments. Their big advantage is a possibility to use them through the Internet with Netscape 2.0 browser (or higher) or Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 installed on an applet capable platform like Windows 95. Netscape browsers are free of charge for educational institutions and Internet Explorer is free for everybody. Nowadays it becomes more likely to find in colleges and high schools good computers hooked up to Internet than well equipped physics labs. As a matter of fact applets can be installed and used locally, without Internet connection, which makes it even cheaper. 
           After creation of two such simulations for experiments in mechanics I have concluded that they may work best as a support for a Web course of introductory mechanics. So I have started to develop such course which hopefully will be fully operational in the end of 1997. In this course I try to emphasize an experimental base of the Newtonian mechanics and its relations with mathematics as only known method capable of quantitative descriptions the nature laws. The course will be kept as much as possible on an elementary level. The mathematics used there will not go much beyond a good high school algebra. Unfortunately true understanding Newton laws is not possible without at least a type of calculus invented by Newton himself. Such calculus will be developed and applied in this course. Thus, this course is not intended for people who want to memorize a bit of physics to pass some standard tests and forget about it, but for these who want truly understand Newtonian mechanics. Students are supposed to perform all suggested simulations of experiments and make an elementary mathematical analysis of their "experimental" results. This analysis should lead to mathematical formulations of the physics laws. It does not make much sense to move to a next section without understanding what a current section is about. Physical laws and principles are very much interdependent and very often they must be introduced in a certain order. All of it demands from students self discipline and hard work.
          Those who teach introductory physics courses may also find some elements of this course interesting. The applets used here are capable to simulate many other experiments which are not described in the course but may be of interest in other courses. But they have their limitations. For example, none of them let you change initial conditions for a simulated motion in a continuous way. It means that you have only limited number of choices. This limitation keeps applets code relatively simple. More about behaviour of a particular applet can be found in each part of the course introducing this applet.
           Due to limitations of HTML mathematical formulae are often printed here in not quite standard notation. For example, it is not possible to use standard square root symbol or fraction line. Thus, they are replaced by power and slash respectively. If you have problems with some formulae, please rewrite them in standard forms on a piece of paper.
           In actual stage of its development the course can be used as a supplemental material for a regular course containing mechanics. When fully developed, it hopefully will make possible to learn basic Newtonian mechanics without a lot of external help.
           Currently developed material can be downloaded as a
zip file and used (at least in theory) on any platform with a browser which is capable to handle applets. But so far the related applets  have beeen tested and found working correctly  on Windows 95 and Windows NT with Netscape and Internet Explorer 3.0. Tests on Unix gave negative results. Hopefully I will be able to test it on Macintosh soon. If you find worth to download it please read the copy rights note. To use it, extract zip file to a separate directory and open m_cont_h.html in your browser.

Last update: Jan 10, 1997 E - mail to Edward Kluk
Copyright (c) 1996 Edward Kluk