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The Physics Department is taking learning out of the lab and into the skies. Students in Physics 100/200 and 190 have been experimenting with launching pressure rockets behind the campus athletic fields. Faculty members Kristen Burson, Viva Horowitz, and Seth Major along with Adam Lark, director of laboratories/head technician, are teaching the concepts of pressure and distance.

We asked Assistant Professor of Physics Viva Horowitz to describe the project.

What does this show?
A big idea in physics is that we make connections between the world and mathematics in order to make predictions. In the model rocket experiment, the students shoot a rocket straight up and then use those observations to predict how far they can shoot it at an angle, and they test their prediction by shooting it at that angle.

These are pressure rockets. We build up pressure inside the rockets using a bicycle pump, and when the pressure is high enough the rockets will launch.

What do you hope students learn from it?
There are life skills: teamwork, communication, perseverance (when things don’t go as planned) and reading comprehension. And then there are technical skills. There is some fairly involved mathematical work involving geometry, trigonometry, and parametric equations. And the students apply the physical model of constant acceleration to the motion of the rocket.

I hope they will also make the connection that what they are learning in the classroom exists beyond the classroom and [that they] build their ability to apply the concepts they are learning in the classroom in new situations.

How have things changed in teaching physics this semester?
One of the things we are doing differently this year in Physics 100/200 is that we are not meeting in an indoor laboratory. The students are doing experiments outside or in their own dorm rooms. We are currently teaching students to use software called Tracker that enables them to analyze videos of objects in motion. This is the second time they are using Tracker, so we are hoping they will get more comfortable making videos on their smartphones and tracking the motion of objects with Tracker. I think this will really empower the students to analyze the motion of anything they can record.

Watch for more profiles about interesting ways Hamilton faculty are teaching this semester.

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