Tuesday, September 24, 2002

prism: Physics

New York Times (free registration required): Here They Are, Science’s 10 Most Beautiful Experiments. And on PhysicsWeb: The most beautiful experiment.

Links via MetaFilter.

My favourite experiment would be Newton’s decomposition of sunlight with a prism because I love optics and the beautiful rainbow colours. Foucault’s Pendulum is pretty amazing as well. But the most amazing experiment I did myself was building a laser during a lab course at the university. Of course I didn’t build it from scratch; the ingredients – mirrors, He-Ne-filled tube etc. – were already there, but it’s still amazing that you can get a laser started by adjusting those tiny mirrors micromillimeter by micromillimeter. It takes a lot of patience and you can de-adjust the thing by sneezing, but I was all the more impressed I got it running in the first place.

Speaking of physics… I’ve been teaching physics to 30 sixth-graders for almost a month now, and I had no idea how much fun it would be. During the first six months of my traineeship I taught 8th to 11th graders and found it easiest to understand and help solve the problems of the older students. Sixth grade is the first time students have physics lessons in German schools, so they don’t have any previous knowledge from earlier courses. I thought that it would be difficult to choose topics and experiments that would be interesting for them but not too complex and still easy enough to explain.

However, almost all of the students seem to be very interested in the topic I chose first – light – and eager to learn. They’re curious, open-minded and not afraid of explaining their views and opinions to their classmates even if they are not sure whether they’re right. They also sometimes surprise me by what they already know about phyics. The speed of light, anyone? And the time it takes light to reach the earth from the sun? (Yes, one of the six-graders knew the answers.)

And they ask interesting questions, sometimes even about things I never questioned or even thought about. The other day, we were talking about light that is not visible to the human eye, namely infrared and ultraviolet light. I explained that some animals see differently than we do. Bees can see in the ultraviolet range (but are blind to red), and I said that some flowers that are plain white to us are very colourful to bees. One girl then asked: “And what colour does the flower really have, white or ultraviolet?”

Teaching is fun, and it’s always good if the teacher learns something new as well.


And by the way, Garret posted another gorgeous sunset photo yesterday.


I’m still looking for suggestions on what printer to buy