Thursday, December 4, 2014

Independent Friction Labs

At the end of the first term, I give my honors physics students a couple of days to design, implement, and present an independent investigation involving friction. That's about all that I specify, other than the size of the poster and a few details about requiring equations set with software, citations, etc.

This year's crop was great!

This group investigated the "friction" effects of oobleck on a block, dragged through it at constant speed. They determined that the relationship could be modeled in a friction-like way, but only if the "coefficient" was a function of speed.

This group tested the idea that the mass shouldn't affect the acceleration due to friction; three kids wore the same clothes and slid across the floor, using video analysis to determine the acceleration.

This group tested and modeled the friction between interleaved pages of books. They first modeled the friction on a single page, under some number of pages above, and then did a summation to predict the total possible static friction force between the books.

This group tested the classic physics approximation of ice being frictionless. They made pucks out of ice and dry ice, and determined friction coefficients for each.

This group tried to find the optimum pulling angle for breaking the static friction on an object, both experimentally and theoretically.

This group determined the coefficient of static friction between two blocks, then predicted the hanging mass necessary in a half Atwood machine to cause the top block to slip against the bottom block (which is attached to the cart in the half Atwood).

Another half Atwood exploration - they set up a vertical surface on a cart and increased the hanging mass until an eraser would accelerate along with the cart, instead of slipping down. 

This group dragged a boat through water at different speeds, trying to determine whether they could model fluid drag as a friction force. They showed that the "coefficient" would be velocity-dependent, so that drag is not really a friction force.

Circular Motion Simulation Follow-up

I last posted about a new circular motion applet that I was planning on using with my classes as the quantitative part of their UCM paradigm lab. Some reflections:

  • When students came up with a list of variables that might affect the size of the centripetal acceleration, the list was: speed, mass, radius (always in that order). The visual accelerometer on a rotating table showed the qualitative effect of speed nicely, and the thought experiment about driving a car around a corner (tight or wide) addressed radius. We couldn't do mass with the given stuff, so I told them to check that out in the applet. A few seconds' work with the slider showed that it's irrelevant.
  • The applet is framed in terms of string length (radius) and rotational frequency - instead of speed. This means that students had to confront (and figure out) the relationship between rotational frequency (or period) and speed just to get their data for the acceleration's dependence on speed. I like that.
  • The other way that they have to confront it is to control speed while investigating acceleration's dependence on radius - changing the radius but not the frequency would change the speed. The students have the figure out the proper frequency for each new value of the radius in order to keep the speed constant during the second experiment. I like this a lot as well.
  • Students still have trouble reconciling their two models ( and ) to determine the complete function of v and r. Even when they have figured out the units of the two constants, the connection is hard for them to make. I'm very open to suggestions of ways to make this go more easily - I don't have a great handle on what the conceptual difficulty is for them here. In the second section, I framed those two models as "OK, so a is proportional to v-squared, and a is proportional to 1/r," and that may have helped.
  • Overall, the quantitative modeling went much more quickly, had some good conceptual things to think about, and was good practice with function modeling, so I'm pretty happy about it, at this point. We'll see how things go over the next couple of weeks; did this begin to build lasting understanding?