TASIS Presents Posters at American Association of Physics Teachers’ Summer Meeting

The American Association of Physics Teachers’ Summer Meeting 2015 was held at the University of Maryland in College Park, MD from 26-29 July 2015.  TASIS rising junior Francesco Insulla presented two posters coauthored with rising seniors Sidney Mau and Rachel Maerz and physics teacher Scott Dudley.  Their first poster, “The Smart Mass,” showed how to use a smartphone as the moving mass in a physical system.  Combining the mass of the phone with data from its internal accelerometers one can know the entire right hand side of Newton’s second law, F=ma, or “force equals mass times acceleration”.  This means the mass also knows the net force on it, making it one “smart mass”!  Here’s the poster:

Smart Mass aapt july 2015 as printed

“The Smart Mass,” Francesco Insulla, Sidney Mau, and Scott Dudley

The first person to speak with Francesco was Chrystian Vieyra, the author of the Physics Toolbox app, which was used for data collection off the Android devices.  Francesco showed Chrystian useful features to include in the app that he had coded in Mathematica, and we hope he’s able to include them in future releases.

francesco and smart mass aapt 2015 p1

Francesco Insulla and Chrystian Vieyra, co-founder of Vieyra Software, discuss “The Smart Mass”


Francesco shows Chrystian an analysis feature we’d like to see as part of the phone’s app.

The second poster titled “Experiment-based Test Problems” used two example test questions shown alongside actual data for such questions.  This highlighted the fact that for many questions data hasn’t actually been taken.  With data, as the authors have taken and shown, the question’s shortcoming are brought to the forefront.  The problems on the poster involve an Atwood’s machine and standing wave resonances in an open tube, but the coauthors are exploring a half dozen such questions.  Again, interest in the poster was good including a representative from the Educational Testing Services who enjoyed seeing the AP Physics example discussed.  Here’s the poster:

experiment based test question final hires

Experiment-based Test Problems by Francesco Insulla, Sidney Mau, Rachel Maerz, and Scott Dudley

The posters attracted over forty folks with interested questions, and the students are considering future work along these lines of exploration.  Francesco, Sidney, and Rachel showed great curiosity, extending themselves beyond the course outline, including taking data in their free time at school and at home, and even coming to the classroom during the summer for a couple days to flesh out the posters.  All in all it was a great experience, and a fun time interacting with physicists and the physics community!



Recap – Eclipse 20 March 2015

Here’s a recap of the eclipse of March 20, 2015 with 84% partial coverage from our perspective. On my morning drive, Absolute Radio’s Breakfast Show nailed the sentiment before the eclipse had started with Richie Firth’s commandeering of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” ending with his modified lyrics “there’s nothing to view, a rubbish eclipse of the sun.” Richie, broadcasting from Leicester Square, adds, “it might be really good, but I’m just assuming it won’t be”.  Indeed, totally weathered out for most of London, but still very fun! Tyler’s song was trending last week, and since it isn’t likely to trend here again until Aug 12th, 2026 – the date of the next comparable partial eclipse in the UK – I’ll mention the video for it was shot a short distance up the road in Virginia Water between the days that it was Holloway Sanatorium and its redevelopment to a place many expats now pass through, and also a great spot for trick-or-treating on Halloween.  Author Bill Bryson worked at, met his wife from Egham, and writes about the sanatorium in his book “notes from a small island.” Bryson writes about a patient named Harry who “would approach staff and ask them in a strange, bleating voice if the hospital was going to close in 1980.  According to his copious medical notes, he had been obsessed with this question since his arrival as a young man in about 1950.  The thing is, Holloway was a big, important institution, and there were never any plans to close it.  Indeed, there were none right up until the stormy night in early 1980 when Harry was put to bed in a state of uncharacteristic agitation – he had been asking his question with increasing persistance for several weeks – and a bolt of lightning struck a back gable, causing a devastating fire that swept through the attics of several wards, rendering the entire structure suddenly uninhabitable.”  All were evacuated safely, but it did close. Back to the eclipse. My wife was up around Oxford at 9:30am on the M40 and pulled over for some pretty decent views.  I received the text “brilliant!!!” and then she called in and relayed an on-the-spot account to our class as we watched BBC’s live broadcast with Dara Ó Briain (physics major, now comedian) and Brian Cox (physics professor and television presenter).  Her view was much like Andreas Shroeer’s view up in Bletchley Park, who runs Astromedia which supplied us with the Baader film and the solar projector.  Here’s his solar projection, which is what ours would’ve looked like had there been no clouds.


But the sun shines on TASIS in more places than Thorpe. My son was on the field trip to Granada, Spain.  Here’s his picture near the maximum along with a group shot.



Equipment: Ipod through Baader Solar Filter

A few hours too late fabulous weather arrived, and I can attest the little solar projector is awesome, and we will keep an eye out for gnarly sunspots.  Here’s a student shot of the sun that afternoon using her homemade Baader solar filter. The musical bed for this would be Police’s “King of Pain” for its opening “there’s a little black spot on the sun today” as a little one is just visible.



The 20th of March also had the coincidence of being the vernal equinox, which is the precise moment that the Earth’s spin axis points neither towards nor away from the sun, and all have 12 hour days and nights (save for finer points that alter the simple picture). And the 20th of March was the end of eight days of (somewhat-early) trying to hear from Philae. Orbiting the comet, Rosetta gave lots of shout-outs to precariously settled Philae, but received no reply. Rosetta gave some blind commands to help the little probe manage any power, but only time well tell if it heard them. It evidently can’t muster the 19W needed to send a reply. Later this summer is the prime time for lonely Philae, so there’s still hope.  (from http://blogs.esa.int/rosetta/2015/03/20/waiting-patiently-for-philae/) For some reason Coldplay’s “Charlie Brown” was in my head during eclipse week, perhaps because it’s “one of those Coldplay-patented sun-breaking-through-clouds moments” according to this review. We should’ve been blaring it on the lawn.  While the clouds scuttled our direct view of the eclipse, there are many chances to look up, like two nights later when Venus and the Moon danced in my backyard.


I’ll close with patented-sun-breaking-through-clouds lines: “So we soar luminous and wired.  We’ll be glowing in the dark.”