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PrefacePrefaceWhat This Book Is About
Physics, Fun, and Beyond is an attempt to link science education with discovery and innovation. Its basic idea is to provide a framework for further development, starting with mostly simple and inexpensive do-it-yourself projects. The suggested experiments and prototypes are a guide into "worlds within worlds," using recycled and low-cost materials, which you can find in drugstores, hardware stores, and other familiar locations. By becoming familiar with household toolsand taking appropriate safety measuresyou can perform wonders. You can greatly improve your perception of the world all around you, discover firsthand that many of Nature's laws are just around the corner, and explore how they are interrelated. You will be challenged to think about all the possible applications of what you learn and to build more sophisticated prototypes on your own. Yes, you should explore all the possibilities within your reach. The basic requirements are the desire to enjoy yourself and a good dose of creativitysomething everyone has plenty of. There are experiments for all tastes and ages. The proposed projects are only a few of the possible ways to discover, explore, and demonstrate how science and Nature work together. As you build on the concepts presented in this book, you will soon realize that you are surrounded by opportunities for discovery and innovation.
Another major goal of this book is to foster teamwork. Feel free to invite your classmates and friends to take part in the adventure of discovering Nature. Experience the fun of sharing your discoveries. You will learn that more ideas flowand results are attained much faster when you work as a team. The point is to find simple and inexpensive solutions. The world is looking for new discoveries. Why not display your experiments in parks, shopping malls, youth centers, children's parties, or at schools? That is the big challenge. Science is contagious. Just give it a try!How This Book Is Organized
Physics, Fun, and Beyond is divided into five major blocks of experiments under the headings Fun With Mechanics; Playing With Light: Optics; The World of Atoms and Our World: Cold, Heat, and Giant Bubbles; Playing With Sounds: Acoustics; and Electrifying Experiments: Electricity and Magnetism. This does not mean that the experiments are isolated from each other. Quite the contrarythere are multiple crosslinks connecting the various experiments and prototypes.
The traditional divisions of physics into separate areas is totally artificial. More and more, the boundaries within physics and within science in general are being pushed further or are simply vanishing. In the twenty-first century, perhaps we will learn to see science without boundaries. Hopefully, we will learn to see the world in the same waywithout boundariesso that all of humankind can enjoy living in it and appreciate its beauty.Who This Book Is For
This book is addressed to a wide readership. Teachers and students are not the only people who get interested in and involved with science and technology. My experience has shown that curious people of all ages become thrilled with the unique way of approaching the world that science enables. This book uses an accessible language and means to describe Nature, in "as simple a way as possible, though not simpler," as once stated by Albert Einstein.
Parents with much younger children who are interested in scienceor even just in "tricks"will find here many opportunities to enjoy themselves, with child supervision and assistance, of course! There is magic in science that we can all enjoyespecially when we share it!
Most of the projects suggested are simple enough for middle school children (ages 10 to 14) or home schooling at the same level or even younger children. My experience has shown that an instructor (teacher or parent) is necessary in these cases to supervise the kids and provide assistance whenever necessary. The handling of tools, like an electric drill or a jigsaw, should in most cases be done by an adult or with teacher supervision.
Ideally, the instructor should provide the children with some parts of the experiments that require more time to prepare or are more demanding. For example, youngsters will love to make rockets with air propulsion. The instructor should make the platform so the children can concentrate on making different models of rockets using just paper, scissors, and white glue.
The most important point is to create a favorable atmosphere for children to explore new possibilities and to come up with new ideas. Children are very creative, and the instructor is sure to be impressed with their progress and to benefit from many of their suggestions. The success of this strategy relies very much on selecting which activities the kids can do on their own and which ones they need assistance with.
Some projects offer several degrees of sophistication. An example is the wind tunnel, which starts with simply blowing a piece of paper. Another example is the flying saucer ("Outsmarting Friction"), the simplest version of which is a CD model that is easy to make. The next stages of both projects are increasingly more demanding in terms of skills, although they can still be used in demonstrations in connection with the simpler versions. The underlying principles are the same, so both children and adults will marvel at the same experiments. Other projects, although simple to make, are conceptually more sophisticated and are prone to inspire college freshmen. The sequence of experiments of "The Astronaut in the Elevator," "Bouncing Balls," and "New Discoveries with Polarizers may belong to this class. The experiments which are more demanding are highlighted with a star (intermediate level) and two stars (more advanced level).
One important point to keep in mind is that every age group has different needs and skills. Teenagers 14 to 17 years old will definitely want to do whole projects on their own and put into practice lots of new ideas for science fair projects. They should become familiar with basic tools and safety measures before moving on to implement their projects. This will help prevent accidents. (This holds true for all age groups, for even a simple piece of paper can cut someone's hand if not properly handledsee "A Paper Saw?")
Teachers with no science background but who want to expose their students to the "wonder" of science can greatly benefit from first doing some of the proposed experiments on their own before assigning simple projects to their students. To understand the importance of challenges in the educational process, teachers should first feel for themselves the thrill of discovery. Once they catch the spirit, they will be able not only to enthuse their students but also to explore the results of the experiments and enrich their classes. Parents who home school their children or who want to enrich their children's public school education should also do some of the experiments on their own first, and then do them along with their children. The cooperative effort provides a unique opportunity for parents and children to benefit from their mutual progress as they advance in exploring new possibilities. Students should be encouraged to share their inventions with their classmates and friends so that they can learn from each other as well as with each other.
College and High-School instructors and lecturers who have a laboratory as part of introductory courses should take advantage of the many simple demonstrations proposed here. They should also consider challenging their students to develop innovative projects on their own, using inexpensive materials. The first step toward this goal could be improving projects like the ones proposed in this book, so that students become more motivated, gain confidence, and develop the required skills to tackle more sophisticated projects. I started this approach some years ago and have so far collected a number of success stories. Some of my freshman students were the first ever at my university to apply for a patent.
Since innovation, discovery, perception, and pro-activity are so greatly emphasized in this book, it may also be of interest to non-science students looking for new approaches to the science of everyday life and also for all people involved in fostering creativity in companies, factories, and workplaces in general. After all, we need to move quickly in a world that is technologically reinventing itself every day. Apparently, educational systems around the world are far behind this ever-growing wave of innovative technologies that are shaping a new era for humankind.What Support Is Provided
A general introduction to the tools and safety measures needed to implement the projects is presented in "How to Get Going." The material required for each experiment and prototype is described in detail in "Supplies." Suggestions on how to do the projects are presented in "Step By Step." Further suggestions are found in "A Step Further" and "A Step Even Further" sections. Hints about the science underlying the experiments and prototypes, provided in the "Fun Facts" sections, help you find new insights and stimulate further thoughts about the science behind each project. You will be challenged to find out what comes next, to find alternatives when you don't have the materials required, and to invent things you probably never dreamed of. The whole idea is to foster curiosity and fresh explorations. Innovation and discovery are often a product of lack of means, of lucky opportunities that turn up when you are after new possibilities, and of looking at things from different perspectives.
You can also rely on the many sites now found on the World Wide Web. So many of them are dedicated to science and technology that it is impossible to name all. Search engines like Google can lead you to sites full of fascinating information. In my view, though, we should be a bit cautious about the excess of information now available. We live in a world that offers plenty of means but scarcely ever provides us with opportunities to shape our own goals, to fulfill our dearest dreams. If we discover what we really want, what gives us pleasure, what suits our deepest needs, then we can use the incredible resources we have at our disposal in a way that will make us feel proud of achieving something unique and that allows us to give shape to our humanity. Why and How This Book Came Out: The Spirit of Physics, Fun, and Beyond
We live in a wonderful world, full of challenges and mysteries, most of them still unnoticed. Physics, like chemistry and biology, represents a human attempt to understand what is behind everything surrounding us, including ourselves. Despite the many advances in science and technology, which are so present in our everyday life, it seems to most of us that only very few people are able to contribute to these advances. As our knowledge increases at a fantastic pace, it seems almost impossible for young people to experience the thrill of innovation and discovery.
The primary aim of Physics, Fun, and Beyond is to point out some of the infinite possibilities within our reach to perceive the world from a brand new perspective, using just imagination and the many resources available to us in our homes. Billions of plastic bottles and packaging are produced every year worldwide. Why not use them to invent new gadgets and discover more about the world and ourselves? Do we really need sophisticated equipment to feel the joy of scientific endeavor?
When I was a young student of physics, I came across Richard Feynman's Lectures on Physics. Feynman inspired me to take on a big challenge: how to share with everybody the spirit of adventure that makes science and technology advance. This book is a response to a deep-rooted need to bridge the gapsthe many gapsbetween advanced researchers and laypeople. Several experiments and prototypes proposed here are linked, one way and another, to current cutting-edge technology and basic research.
The twenty-first century trend is for physics, chemistry, and biology to become more and more intertwined. Physics, Fun, and Beyond highlights this trend through experiments and models that display a complementary approach. However, there is more than science and technology in this book. Its most fundamental message is the belief that science and technology are tools to promote people, to help you, me, and other people to discover our talents and improve the overall living standards of our societies. Teamwork, innovation, and challenges are the basic elements that came together to make this book possible.
Many people and circumstances have helped me to transform vague ideas into models and prototypes, or to discard projects that became untenable. It has been a long journey. I started with an attempt to make my physics courses more attractive by challenging the students to create their own projects, and thus become more pro-active. Then I organized interactive exhibitions in shopping malls, parks, squares, and schools, which attracted the interest of people from all walks of life. Workshops with emphasis on creativity and team work then followed. Joining efforts with Alfredo Luis Mateus, who is a chemist and loves art, was a major step toward the creation of the Youth Science Foundation Brazil. It is nice to see that simple ideas and achievable goals can be very powerful in enthusing and inspiring people of all ages to see beauty in science and to apply it to unique creations. This remains my continuing inspiration.
I am very deeply indebted to too many people to name them all, people who have taught me how to transform problems and obstacles into opportunities and to persist in my goals. I would like to mention a few representative names: Alfredo Luis Mateus, Esdras Garcia Alves, Andreza Fortini da Silva, Marcus Vinicius de Oliveira Saraiva, Alexsandro Jesus Ferreira de Oliveira, Lister Fleury de Oliveira Laranjo, Sílvio Fernando Vargas Bento, Tiago Novais Faria, Alisson Duarte da Silva, Frederico do Carmo de Moro, Pedro Santiago Carneiro Quadros, Bruna Aparecida de Oliveira, Devair Vieira de Oliveira, Mats Selen, Carlinho, Christian Lanyi and Klaus Weltner. I would also like to express my gratitude to all my colleagues at the Physics Department of the Federal University of Minas Gerais, especially Maurílio Nunes Vieira, Pedro Licinio de Miranda Barbosa, Luiz Orlando Ladeira, Wagner Nunes Rodrigues, Ado Jório, Alaor Chaves, Marcos Pimenta, Oscar Nassif, Luiz Alberto Cury, Ricardo Schwartz Schor, and Beatriz Alvarenga. In addition, Clóvis de Oliveira Mello Júnior, João Batista Reis Silva, and Gilberto dos Santos have been most supportive with their technical advice and prompt assistance. My collaboration with Professors Laurence Eaves and Fred Sheard at Nottingham University in the United Kingdom was also a key element in my search for seeing science from a different perspective.
This book would never have become a reality without the total commitment of Cláudio Roberto, who is responsible for the wonderful figures that are essential to convey the ideas behind all experiments proposed. Heather Jean Blakemore, Michael Hugh Knowles, and Carol J. Lallier also did their best to improve my English. Michael, with his continuous flow of ideas and suggestions, was instrumental in making this book accessible to a wider readership. Bernard Goodwin from Prentice Hall made me believe that Physics, Fun, and Beyond was possible. Bernard and Michelle Vincenti did their best to provide me with ideal conditions to write the book. Last but not least, I thank my wife Friederike and our children. Without their understanding, continuous support, and love, I would never have been able to make an old dream come true.
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