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Carl E. Mungan, Professor
Carl E. Mungan, Professor

'Web Watch' Column

I have collected together here the pieces that I have prepared for APS's Forum on Education Newsletters. Items have been updated where appropriate since the original columns were written.

  • NSF has a collection of physics discoveries that began with their support.
  • The website of the Field Museum of Science in Chicago is interesting. Also visit the website of the Museum of Science & Industry in the same city.
  • AT&T has put many of their tech archives online.
  • Vega Science Trust has many videos on their website, notably including four of Richard Feynman.
  • A set of physics pages are at Inside Science supported by AIP.
  • An interesting hypothesis connecting the second law of thermodynamics to the evolution of life has been proposed. Perhaps not surprisingly, the reader comments at its end are about four times longer than the main article itself.
  • Going back to even more foundational issues than the origin of life, read Alan Guth’s remarks about the Big Bang.
  • MIT’s Media Lab has a webpage devoted to its Fluid Interfaces Group.
  • A thoughtful discussion with videos of the demonstration of a long chain of beads leaping fountain-style out of a jar onto the floor is up.
  • Science in School is a European science education web journal.
  • Optical circulators are like one-way traffic circles used to measure backscattering from fiber lasers. An acoustic analog has now been constructed.
  • Scientific American has a fascinating video explaining the classic puzzle: If you pull straight back on the lower pedal of your bicycle, will the bike move forward or backward? Without spoiling too much, I will simply say that both answers are experimentally achievable! Go watch it.
  • Okay, it’s not physics, but here is a cool site where you can listen to various animal sounds recorded at various places around the globe.
  • A new class of efficient solar cells based on perovskite materials have also been found to make good lasers.
  • AAPT’s journal The Physics Teacher is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of publication this year. Check out its anniversary booklet in Flash format.
  • Volume I of The Feynman Lectures on Physics has been made freely available in HTML.
  • Here is a good webpage to explore engineering topics ranging from basic to advanced.
  • Do you remember the Macintosh program called HyperCard? It consisted of virtual cards of information and images. Links between different cards would allow one to browse from topic to topic, finding information of interest. The HyperPhysics web pages, each of which look like roughly letter-sized cards, are based on the same idea.
  • The electric field created in the wake of a laser pulse passing through and separating charges in a plasma can be used to accelerate electrons to high energies over short distances. The University of Texas at Austin recently achieved a record 2 GeV over a span of 1 inch.
  • A well-written module encouraging the involvement of undergraduates in research experiences is online.
  • The American Society for Engineering Education has made its flagship journal Prism freely available.
  • There has rightly been a huge positive buzz about the a capella YouTube video teaching string theory.
  • NASA has a web site devoted to Earth-observing satellites.
  • The University of Nebraska at Lincoln has a set of STEM lesson plans (primarily for middle and high school).
  • I was intrigued by the discussion that nanoscale heat engines are fundamentally less efficient than larger devices because of the breakdown of thermodynamics when applied to systems of few particles.
  • A fun new site for asking and answering unusual pointed questions is Quora.
  • Nowadays there is a lot of interest in metrics on individual journal articles. You can download a handy browser bookmark tool that will instantly look up citation details for any webpage that includes a Digital Object Identifier for an article.
  • Looking for good background music in your office? I’m partial to Psychedelic Ambient Trance and to NPR’s Echoes.
  • The Physics Classroom is intended to support students and teachers of physics, primarily at the high school level, with tutorials, exercises, and other materials.

Three more webpages devoted to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education to add to the lists in my previous two columns:

  • Puzzles are fun in physics. But mathematicians like to get in on the fun too. A lengthy list of mathematical articles related to physics puzzles is online at this verbose link.
  • If you haven't seen the "Scale of the Universe" animation created by two teenagers, check it out.
  • The Institute of Physics has a new webpage with content tailored for teachers online.
  • I have not yet tried using it, but there is a free tool to convert PDF documents into HTML pages.
  • My children found Science Buddies to be helpful in finding ideas for Science Fair projects.
  • Wolfram has hundreds of interactive physics demonstration animations.
  • What young person could resist videos about the physics of race car driving?
  • Three substantial American RadioWorks presentations in a series entitled "Don't Lecture Me" can be accessed.
  • If you teach intermediate-level physics with substantial calculus content, you'll likely find something useful here. Examples include a short derivation of the sum of the reciprocal integers squared, various kinds of average distances from the earth to the sun, and a bug problem.
  • Westfall's biography of Newton has been strongly recommended to me. Put it on your summer reading list.

Last issue I began with a collection of webpages devoted to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. Here are some more:

I'll start this issue's column with a focus on webpages devoted to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education:

  • The University of Nottingham has a series of sixty videos built around various symbols denoting key concepts in physics and astronomy. (To be fair, they invented a few nonstandard symbols, such as a silhouette of a drinking bird, in contrast to traditional symbols such as physical constants, the planets, and so on.) I think the coefficient of restitution demonstration (symbol "r" near the end of the list) of tiny balls bouncing between compartments on a vibrating platform is pretty nifty.
  • There has been lots of positive buzz about the seven videos of Feynman's Messenger lectures (delivered at Cornell University in 1964) on Microsoft's Project Tuva site.
  • There are also plenty of good textbooks appearing (for free!) on the web these days. For example, I learned a lot even from the first few pages of Tatum's Celestial Mechanics. For the intro physics course, you would probably want to take a look at the Light and Matter series. Need a reference handbook of advanced math functions? It's hard to beat Abramowitz and Stegun for comprehensiveness.
  • Do you have a question about how physics explains everyday phenomena? Well, Louis Bloomfield claims he can explain how everything works. I'll leave it to you to try and stump him, if you can!
  • John Denker has a very extensive web site about how airplanes fly. It includes not only the usual discussion of various common fallacies about wings, but plenty of practical physics for real pilots.
  • Lately I've enjoyed perusing some of the articles on the Inside Higher Ed website.
  • The Nobel prizes were announced recently. A complete description of the physics prizes are in chronological order.
  • My favorite physics blog is Built on Facts written by graduate student Matt Springer at Texas A&M. I like it because I share the author's interest in statistical mechanics, mathematical physics, and science fiction. It helps too that his posts are only a few paragraphs long, stick to a single topic at a time, and occur about 5 times a week. (Who has time for rambling posts several times a day?)
  • I also highly recommend the Advice column and the Blogs of the Chronicle of Higher Education. I make it a point to read them once a week, typically on Fridays. They are loaded with excellent commentary and opinions about all topics academic.
  • While none of us wants to subscribe to too many email listservers (you do have a life beyond the internet, don't you?) I strongly recommend the PHYS-L digest (make sure you sign up for the digest version, unless you want to receive 20 or more individual postings per day). It's a good source for asking about and discussing issues related to physics teaching. For academics in general, two other excellent resources are Tomorrow's Professor and The Irascible Professor, each of which emails out articles a couple of times of week related to the life of a professor.
  • A good site for readable summaries of recent scientific research can be found at Spotlight, which highlights important new articles in APS's physics journals.
  • Did you know you can solve indefinite integrals online (and more) using Mathematica?
  • Project Galileo at Harvard is a repository of materials based on Peer Instruction and Just-in-Time Teaching. A broader collection of online resources supporting teaching and learning in physics and astronomy is comPADRE.
  • You have signed up for free Educator Access to Cramster, haven't you? Many of your students are probably paying $9.95/month to get access to detailed solutions to textbook problems at this site. Have you looked to see what they can see?
  • Finally, there are some great physics movies on the web (other than on YouTube). Try the classic Frame of Reference, the complete 52-program set of The Mechanical Universe and Beyond, and The Video Encyclopedia of Physics Demonstrations.