Kit Experiments in Mechanics

This entry is part [part not set] of 5 in the series Home kit-based college physics experiments
The Course

Mechanics being a first course in physics training, a balance of theory and hands-on activities gets the student ready to undertake a systematic study of other areas of physics. Accordingly they go hand-in-hand in our undergraduate first course taught at our University. On the theoretical side, a basic introduction to standard topics in Mechanics is undertaken while using elementary mathematical methods based on calculus. Computational methods learnt in an earlier course are also applied in solving problems as well as for demonstration purposes.

Measurements related to particles or a system thereof, kinematics and dynamics as well as properties of matter are usually the skills built in a Mechanics course. The learning objectives related to this course typically include the ability to visualize, describe, and solve physical problems. Students are also expected to set up their own experiments using simple components and perform measurements.

The kit

In a normal lab-based setting, there are about 8-10 experiments performed in a semester. However, during the pandemic a digital (smartphone) camera and tracker were utilized to perform and analyze experiments with ordinary items such as a ruler, coins etc. that are fairly regular, accessible, as well as standardized. No special kit was sent for this course.

Home-kit based experiments

After a practice exercise using videography as well as tracker, five experiments were performed as graded activities. These were:

1-D motion of objects under the influence of forces
2D projectile motion
Collision of two objects
Centre-of-mass of a system of particles
Young’s modulus by bending of a beam
Rotational motion of a beam

In addition, students performed a classical collision simulation on an ensemble to obtain a Maxwellian velocity distribution as a term project.

Centre-of-mass of a system of particles

This experiment was designed to highlight the role of centre-of-mass of a system of particles or a rigid body as a representative point that reacts to external forces. Please note that the initial idea of using just two objects (title) was changed to three for richness sake.


Sample report

Young’s modulus by bending of a beam

This is a standard experiment in continuum mechanics. The focus in this home-experiment with non-standard equipment was to make students aware of the techniques for measuring such quantities.


Example report

Reception and feedback

No kits were sent for this course and experiments were designed so that students could do the work with material available in their homes or their immediate surroundings. In most cases, they needed their smart phone to record kinematic data and a spreadsheet to analyse it. Students were able to obtain quality data. Since they did not have the benefit of having attended the Introductory Physics 1, Experimental Foundations course, some of the material that was prerequisite for this course had to be incorporated here.

Because this is the first physics course, there were fewer experiments and all utilized videography and tracking. The centre-of-mass experiment was difficult to perform with the students reporting that the structure could not remain coherent. This is to be expected as dropping it in perfect orientation is indeed difficult. The Young’s modulus experiment did go well for many students.

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