Virtual Labs: 5 Experiments to Perform in Your Browser
With virtual physics labs, you may not need that expensive or cumbersome lab equipment anymore. I’ve designed each lab to keep the learning, but to remove the frustration of the traditional lab experience.
Every lab below also comes with free printable activity guides to use for your class. You may well find that there’s not much left for you to do but grade them.
Exploring Motion Graphs
Sometimes it takes a bit of practice to interpret position and velocity graphs, and this lab provides that practice. We provide eight different practice graphs (four position, four velocity), and students try to drag the on-screen caterpillar to create a matching graph. Quick visual feedback helps students learn the significance of the graph’s various features effectively and efficiently.
In one experiment, students explore the properties of alpha, beta and gamma radiation with cardboard, plastic and lead barriers, then use their knowledge to identify an unknown radiation source. There’s even a Ba-137 source that is perfect for measuring half-life within a class period. Both experiments feature background radiation to be excluded and random variation in the counts, just like the traditional physical lab.
Conservation of Momentum
Now your students can perform the conservation of momentum lab without the unwieldy mess of physical photogates. Data for the velocities come from the convenient virtual photogates, with no tedious setup required. Cars can collide from the same or opposite directions (or with one car stationary), and collisions can be elastic or inelastic. There’s even a partially elastic mode in case you’d like to explore the coefficient of restitution.
The Monkey and the Hunter
Here’s another classic lab without the tedious setup. Students will see that no matter how far away the gun is, or how fast the muzzle velocity, the bullet and the monkey fall the same distance. The vertical components of motion really are independent of the horizontal—sometimes a hard concept for students to internalize. For more depth and insight, you can even vary the gun’s firing angle.
Mechanical Equivalent of Heat
This lab is sort of like the conventional lab with the cardboard tube and pile of lead shot, except that this lab doesn’t require a near miracle to get accurate results. Students flip the virtual tube of metal shot to convert gravitational potential energy to heat, then use the on-screen measuring instruments to collect their data and calculate the specific heat capacity.