Blog Archives

A Simple Animated Explanation of Free Falling and Zero Gravity

As children we first learn about the notion of weightlessness in outer space and the idea of zero gravity, but these concepts are actually a bit more nuanced than may appear. For example, why satellites orbit Earth instead of crashing into it because of Earth’s gravitational pull can be a mystery if you have never studied physics. The following TED Education animation does a good job of illustrating the basic principle behind orbiting objects without going into too many details.

If you’ve been exposed to high school physics, the Wikipedia article on weightlessness is uncharacteristically clear on some of the more advanced aspects of the subject. In particular, you may be surprised to learn that Einstein in developing his theory of relativity realized that gravitational interaction cannot be felt when all other forces are removed and this led him to consider the possibility that gravity is the result of the curvature of space. If you’re interested in the details of relativity and a modern interpretation of Newtonian mechanics, Leonard Susskind’s set of physics lectures is the best place to start.

Two Minutes of Thermodynamics: Heat Versus Temperature

Sometimes a simple drawing or animation is all that it takes to understand a previously confusing idea. A good illustration of this principle is the following video by Henry Reich which does a good job of explaining the difference between heat and temperature. These two concepts are clearly related but students often erroneously equate them, especially when they first start thinking about them in science class.

A similar, but much older animation from the Eureka! Science series also addresses this thermodynamics issue, but from a slightly different perspective. If you have five minutes to spare, you won’t regret getting a better grasp of this fundamental area of physics.

A Collection of Natural Science Demonstrations from Harvard

Science often feels like a magic show and that aspect makes it particularly appealing to science education. Great communicators of science like Walter Lewin can enchant any audience by turning ordinary physical phenomena into captivating demonstrations that violate intuition and tickle imaginations. In this tradition, Harvard University has created a collection of science demonstrations and simulations covering chemistry, physics, and astronomy. Some of these demonstrations are hard to replicate at home or even in a regular school classroom because of the complex equipment requirements, which is why putting them online is so beneficial. Below is an example of one of the demonstrations that features Chladni plates. More videos are available on the Harvard Natural Sciences Demonstrations Youtube channel.

The Seasons Simply Explained

The fact that certain months are hot and others are cold is so deeply ingrained in our brains that we take it for granted. Fortunately, it doesn’t take advanced science to explain the basics behind this phenomenon. In the “Reasons for Seasons” animation below, Rebecca Kaplan talks about the science of seasons as if she is reading a fairy tale, not giving a serious lecture. This makes for wonderful bedtime learning even if you’re already a serious adult.

One Hour With Richard Feynman: Imagining How Nature Works

Once in a rare while, a genius unlocks a secret of nature, moves humanity forward, and secures a prominent place in the annals of science. Sometimes, more rarely, that same person, also conveys the excitement of discovery and the most complex phenomena in the simplest most beautiful language. Richard Feynman, one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century, is that extremely rare person. In this one hour documentary he talks about the wondrous ways of nature with the air of someone who is both the keeper of its secrets and who is at the same time as fascinated by it as a child. Feynman talks about the jiggling of atoms to explain heat, surface tension of water, and how fire work. He discusses magnetism and reveals why any “why” question can lead to an infinite rabbit hole of explanations. This video should be mandatory viewing for anyone studying science and should be a powerful reminder about the power of imagination, not just the power of theory.

Why Does Earth Have Deserts and Related Questions Answered

Some facts are so ingrained in our consciousness that we can’t avoid taking them for granted. We accept the existence of deserts, but unfortunately we rarely wonder why they exist where they do and what causes their creation. Once again, Henry Reich brings the subject to life with a brief but beautifully simple animation that attempts to answer these questions. Because the video is fast-paced, you might need to pause it once or twice to make sure you didn’t miss anything, but it is an extremely satisfying feeling to learning something completely new after spending just 2 minutes. Of course in order to be concise, the video glosses over several important details including an explanation for why cold air doesn’t hold moisture as well as warm air (here is an explanation and two instruction activities to go with it), but this leaves room for further exploration.