A-level Topics

Unit Conversion Self-Practice

This new applet is designed for students to practise conversion of common units used in physics on their own. There is a checking algorithm within, which might need some fine-tuning. For full screen view, click here.

The worked solutions given will demonstrate the breakdown of steps that could help students learn the procedure to convert these units.

Standard Form and Prefixes

This little applet is designed to allow students to change the order of magnitude and to use any common prefix to observe how the physical quantities are being written. To view this applet in a new tab, click here.

Standard form (also known as scientific notation) is a way of writing very large or very small numbers that allows for easy comparison of their magnitude by using the powers of ten. Any number that can be expressed as a number, between 1 and 10, multiplied by a power of 10, is said to be in standard form.

For instance, the speed of light in vacuum can be written as 3.00 × 108 m s–1 in standard form.

When a prefix is added to a unit, the unit is multiplied by a numerical value represented by the prefix. e.g.     distance = 180 cm = 180 x 10-2 m = 1.80 m

The purpose of using prefixes is to reduce the number of digits used in the expression of values. Hence, students can use the prefix slider to find a user-friendly expression, such as 682 nm instead of 0.000000682 m.

The ten prefixes used are:

10-12pico
10-9nano
10-6micro
10-3milli
10-2centi
10-1deci
103kilo
106mega
109giga
1012tera

Appreciating the least square method of determining best-fit line

This interactive is designed to help students understand the statistical approach underpinning the drawing of a best-fit line for practical work. For context, our national exams have a practical component where students will need to plot their data, often following a linear trend, on graph paper and to draw a best-fit line to determine the gradient and y-intercept.

The instructions to students on how to draw the best-fit line is often procedural without helping students understand the principles behind it. For instance, students are often told to minimise and balance the separation of plots from the best-fit line. However, if there are one or two points that are further from the rest from the best-fit line (but not quite anomalous points that need to be disregarded), students would often neglect that point in an attempt to bring the best fit line as close to the remaining points as possible. This results in a drastic increase in the variance as the differences are squared in order to calculate the “the smallest sum of squares of errors”.

This applet allows students to visualise the changes in the squares, along with the numerical representation of the sum of squares in order to practise “drawing” the best-fit line using a pair of movable dots. A check on how well they have “drawn” the line can be through a comparison with the actual one.

Students can also rearrange the 6 data points to fit any distribution that they have seen before, or teachers can copy and modify the applet in order to provide multiple examples of distribution of points.

Docking with Tides

Did this simple interactive upon request by a colleague who is teaching the JC1 topic of Oscillations.

Based on the following question, this is used as a quick visual to demonstrate why there must be a minimum depth before the boat approaches harbour.

The rise and fall of water in a harbour is simple harmonic. The depth varies between 1.0 m at low tide and 3.0 m at high tide. The time between successive low tides is 12 hours. A boat, which requires a minimum depth of water of 1.5 m, approaches the harbour at low tide. How long will the boat have to wait before entering?

The equation of the depth of water H based on the amplitude of the tide a can be given by $H = H_o + a \cos \omega t$ where $H_o$ is the average depth of the water.

$H = H_o + a \cos \omega t$

When H = 1.5m,

$1.5 = 2.0 – 1.0 \cos (\dfrac{2 \pi}{12}t)$

$\cos (\dfrac{2 \pi}{12}t) = 0.5$

$t = 2.0 h$

Centrifuge Toy

I designed this 3D teaching tool using Tinkercad and printed it out so that my colleague can use it to demonstrate the effect of a centrifuge.

As the toy is being spun, the ball bearings will appear to be thrown outwards. The centripetal forces that are meant to keep them in circular motion is made up of friction and any contact force due to the curvature of the base. If the rate of spin is sufficiently high, there will be insufficient contact force keeping the ball bearings in a circular path and hence, they will spiral outward and land into the cups found near the ends when the spinning stops.

Anyone can 3D-print this design as it had been uploaded into Thingiverse. This is my first original submission and can be found here. You will need 4 tiny balls of no more than 8 mm in diameter. The top is to be covered with a clear sheet of plastic cut-out after tracing the shape using a marker. The sheet can be stuck on the top using normal glue. This plastic cover serves to ensure the balls do not fly out if spun too fast.

A centrifuge toy to demonstrate the effects of rotational motion with insufficient centripetal force.