Accessible Elements by Dietmar Kennepohl Lawton Shaw

Accessible Elements by Dietmar Kennepohl Lawton Shaw

Author:Dietmar Kennepohl, Lawton Shaw
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: EDU029030, EDU041000
Publisher: Athabasca University Press
Published: 2009-12-31T16:00:00+00:00

The lab bill

Traditional laboratories can be equipped with bulky, sophisticated, and costly equipment, whereas home lab kits tend to be far less expensive and very limited in size. The big question, however, is: Can home lab kits substitute for the presumably more specialized equipment found in traditional physics labs?

We do not believe that there is a general consensus regarding an answer to this question. This is because the whole experience of home labs and the use of lab kits is relatively new and limited. Standards have not been laid down yet and the whole idea is still under investigation and requires much more serious research. However, based on our experience at Athabasca University during the past 10 years, we believe that the answer to this question is “yes.” Basically, this is because physical phenomena are all around us and are not confined inside a lab room in the physics department on campus. Whether you are adding an ice cube to your drink or going down the slope in a ski resort, you are actually involved in physical phenomena. Besides, many of the important experiments and great discoveries in the early days of physics were conducted at home and using simple tools and equipment. Therefore, we believe that it is time to get away from the stereotyped images of the physics lab and start thinking outside the box.

It is important at this point to differentiate between qualitative demonstrations which are normally used as teaching aids in classrooms and the more genuine highly quantitative experiments that are typically conducted in physics labs. The common belief is that such experiments are costly and require special support and supervision. This also leads to the perception that low-cost home lab experiments are inferior and cannot be considered genuine. This, in our opinion, is a premature judgment. It is not fair at this time to compare a practice that has been developing for more than a century with the alternative that started to develop, in a serious manner, only about a decade ago. Also, we should indicate that most of the cost involved in traditional labs goes toward providing the overhead and support. This is discussed in Chapter 10. When you eat in an expensive restaurant, you mainly pay for the place and the service and only a small fraction of the bill goes toward the food on the plate. This analogy applies, to a great extent, to the traditional physics lab. Therefore, isolating the physical phenomenon from the laboratory apparatus is a first step toward finding cheaper alternatives for observing the same physics. This is especially true in modern homes, which are full of household items (including hightech devices) that can be used for quantitative physics experiments with sufficient accuracy.

Therefore, we propose that with enough research and imagination, low-cost, high-quality experiments can be designed for the introductory physics courses. We claim to have already developed a wide range of such experiments, which are currently in use. We continue to be active in this direction, and the novelty of home labs noted above suggests that there is plenty of room for improvement.



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