Physics experiments from your home

18 August 2020

Learning with hands and mind is the basis of teaching in Physics. I'm so pleased the PEC team have been able to keep the two essential parts of physics together for our students.

How do you complete a physics experiment from your lounge room during a global pandemic? Earlier this year, Andrew Papworth, Neil Devlin, Tom Cave, and Mika Kohonen from the Physics Education Centre (PEC) technical team created experiment kits so students could complete their lab work at home.

"With ANU closed the new ANU delivery point became Neil's garage in the suburbs. Several hundred optical lens holders were needed so after a major struggle with a company selling 3D printers we got one delivered to Tom in his Queanbeyan unit. It's fair to say Tom ran the printer 24/7 to get the components out on time. A massive effort." Andrew said.

The team worked out that with the resources they had, and some creativity, they could write, buy, assemble and freight out around 100 experimental kits in about four weeks. They set out to make four experiments: to build and use a spectrometer, measure acoustic properties in a pipe, design and build a transistor amplifier, and study a vibrating wire.

"We teach Physics as a hands on discipline and students learn best when their observations marry their theoretical understanding with measurement of the physical world... So it's natural for our lab program to travel with our students," Professor Tim Senden, Director of the Research School of Physics and Engineering, said.

To meet the semester deadlines, the team also sought help from the ANU Makerspace who provided a 3D printer.

"There was much design optimisation to speed up the process to get it done in time." Tom said.

Once the components for the kits were ready, Mika and Neil tested and assembled them. They were ready to be posted out to students in Australia, as well as France, Japan and China!

"From the feedback it looked like our students enjoyed the experience as much as we enjoyed putting it all together." Andrew said.

Professor Senden commended the work and dedication of the team, "learning with hands and mind is the basis of teaching in Physics. I'm so pleased the PEC team have been able to keep the two essential parts of physics together for our students."