EI Small Grant Supports 21st Century Approach to Physics

Smartphones get a workout in a two-semester accelerated introduction to physics for potential University of Wisconsin–Madison physics, astronomy, and applied math, engineering and physics majors.

Phones get dropped, says Duncan Carlsmith, a professor of physics. They get thrown like a football. They get strapped to a pendulum or lashed to a bicycle.

Later, the phones spew out the data gathered by a surprisingly broad array of sensors: accelerometers, gyroscopes, audio and light sensors, magnetometers, and a precise timer.

The mobile devices that live in the tight clutch of the average college freshman contain much more than an able computer, says Carlsmith. “You have this thing in your pocket with all these cool sensors. In many respects they are better than our lab instruments. What happens when we get the data out?”

In Physics 247-8, honors students spend a year answering that question, and many others. Week after week, the smartphone becomes an instrument for teaching and learning introductory physics.

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