# Content

It is that part of the semester where the Right Hand Rule (RHR) comes out. Really, the best part is the students taking the tests. They make all these funny motions with their hands. That makes tests more entertaining (for me) than they usually are.
What is the RHR?
Suppose I have two numbers. Maybe these two numbers are the length and width of a piece of paper. Now suppose I need to multiply length times width to get the area (A = L x W). Simple - right? But that is multiplication for scalar variables. How do you multiply vectors?
There are two common operations you can do with…

Pre Reqs: electric potential, electric field, work-energy
To start, remember that for a constant electric field the change in electric potential energy would be:
WARNING: that is only for a constant electric field. I know you will be tempted later to use this for a different electric field, but DON'T DO IT. But if not that, then how do find the change in electric potential for a point charge? Let me start with a conceptual question. Suppose there were two point charges, both positive but one is held in place. If I hold the other point charge a distance r away from the other charge and…

Pre Reqs: Electric Field, Work-Energy, Potential Energy
If you are already familiar with the topics listed in the pre-reqs above, this will be uber-simple.
Potential energy - short version
The work-energy principle basically says:
In this most basic form, the energy is just kinetic energy (if you are not going near the speed of light). BUT...if you have a force that is conservative (meaning the work done does not depend on the path you take), then you can make it a potential energy and move it to the other side.
Warning: you can not have a force and have that force do both work AND be a…

So, I hear you are starting your second semester of physics. One of the cool things about physics is that the second semester still uses stuff from the first semester. Maybe you forgot some of that stuff, so here are the bare essentials you will need to get by (this is assuming you are in the algebra-based second semester of physics)
Vectors
Really, just about the entire semester course is about the electric and magnetic field. Both of these are easiest to represent as vectors. So, you pretty much need to know how to deal with vectors. Here are some reviews:
How do you represent vectors…

Suppose I take a 1 kg ball and hold it near the surface of the Earth. What would be the gravitational force the Earth exerts on this ball?
And I could say "g" is:
The magnitude of this force would then be 9.8 Newtons. And, if I replaced the ball with a 10 kg ball, the force would be 98 Newtons. What does this have to do with the electric field? Well, you are probably already familiar with this idea of the gravitational force. Guess what? "g" is the gravitational field. Basically, it is the force per unit mass due to the Earth. This is only approximately constant. If I get very far…

So, I complained about MythBuster's explanation of relative velocity. How would I explain this? I would start by saying that velocity is relative. Here is the definition for velocity:
I put the "avg" in there because it is more true. If the acceleration is zero, I could drop this. For the rest of this post, I am going to assume zero acceleration. Ok. But what is the r vector? It is simply a vector from the origin to the object. Here is a picture.
Simple, right? And so the velocity tells how this vector r changes. But wait. Who says that I used the correct origin? How do you…

Pre Reqs: vectors, forces
This is typically the first topic in the second semester of introductory physics - the interaction between objects with electric charge. There are 4 fundamental forces that physics typically looks at:
Gravity - an interaction between objects with mass - wow, I don't have a post on the universal law of gravity?
Electromagnetic - an interaction between objects with electric charge.
Weak Nuclear - an interaction between (let me just say for simplicity) leptons.
Strong Nuclear - an interaction between hadrons.
I know those last two are complicated - but I am not going…

I was thinking about some experiments that deal with friction and I wanted to show something with a force probe. The problem is that most people don't have one of these. So, I decided to try and make one out of simple things. In this case, I am using some straws, a rubber band and some paper clips. Let me draw a little sketch of how this thing works.
The basic idea is to use the rubber band to measure the force (by measuring the amount the rubber band stretches). The two paper clips do two things. First, it allows you to hook up the device to something (like hanging some Lego bricks on…

Do you have a green laser pointer? You should. They are relatively inexpensive now. What if you take your laser pointer and aim it at stuff in your house? The laser dot always looks green, right? This is actually a pretty important point about color. Suppose I have the lights on in a room and I look at a blue book. White light is basically all the colors of the visible spectrum, so a diagram like this might be appropriate:
So, the book looks blue (since that is what your eye sees). Note that I just showed blue light coming off the book, really the other colors reflect some too but…

The following is a collection of some of my posts that can be put into a simple and quick textbook-type thingy. I am not really sure you would call this a textbook, but maybe you would. This does not include everything you would normally find in a traditional textbook, but clearly it is not traditional. I tried to keep it to just the fundamental ideas. As I write more stuff that is appropriate, I will add it.
In terms of the level of this material, I would think it would be appropriate for advanced high school physics or introductory college-level physics.
I plan to update this list with…

Recently, I was talking about vectors. At that time, I had to stop and recall how I had been representing vectors. Ideally, I should stick with the same notation I used in Basics: Vectors and Vector Addition. But let me go over the different ways you could represent a vector.
Graphical
Maybe this is too obvious, but it had to be said. You can represent vectors by drawing them. In fact, this is very useful conceptually - but maybe not too useful for calculations. When a vector is represented graphically, its magnitude is represented by the length of an arrow and its direction is…

Suppose you want to move an empty paper clip box by shooting it with a toy dart gun. Why would you want to do this? Don't worry about that - this is my example and I am sticking with it. Should you shoot a dart that sticks to the box or should you shoot one that bounces off? I made a video of this exact situation. Note: you could obviously come up with other objects to do this with, but I always like to use more normal stuff.
In case it wasn't clear, the first dart bounced back and made the box go much faster (and farther) than the dart that stuck (inside) the box. The usual question is…

After judging the science fair last week, I would like to revisit my tips for you the science fair participant.
Warning number 1
Some of the things I say here might go against what your teacher has told you. I am not sure what you should do in this case. Your teacher gives you a grade and I am just some dude on the internet. Proceed at your own risk.
Oh, and maybe you are a teacher. I think that is great that you are seeking more tips for your students. However, note that I have not read any science fair rules. I am merely thinking about science fair projects from a science viewpoint.…

This is actually been sitting around for a while waiting for me to post it. Here is another short Christmas-toy demo. I am going to pull this yo-yo at different angles and on two different surfaces. Check it out.
What is going on here? Let me look at the first case where I pull the yo-yo and it slides without rolling. Here is a diagram.
Normally, I would just say - "hey - a free body diagram". And this is one, but you have to be careful. Normally, a free body diagram treats an object as though it were a point mass. You can't do that in this case because you have to consider rotation…

Here is a picture of something you have seen before.
These are two pictures of the same location in my house. The one on the left is taken when the Sun was up outside and the other one when it was dark outside. For both pictures, I had the same lights turned on inside. So, why does it do this? Why can you see stuff outside when it is bright outside, but you don't see a reflection of the stuff outside? Why when it is dark outside, does the opposite happen? You know what I am going to do next, right? Diagram. Here is a diagram for when it is dark outside.
The person can see the blue…

If you know me, you know I love Tracker Video Analysis. Basically, it is a free-java program that allows you to get position-time data of a moving object from a video. In Tracker version 3.10, there is now the autotracker feature. This will automagically mark the location of an object moving in a video. How do you use it?
First, the video. This is a video I made of a plane landing at an airport. Not much exciting going on, but that never stopped me before. I put this video on vimeo instead of youtube because vimeo allows you to download the original video.
Landing Airliner from Rhett…

In a MythBusters episode some time ago, Adam and Jamie jumped off a building. There was some cool stuff in this, but I want to focus on the acceleration data they collected. Before jumping into a pit of foam, they first wanted to test the set up by dropping a dummy into it and measuring the accelerations. Lucky for me, they showed a quick screen shot of their data. Note: I previously posted the calculations for jumping and stopping off of a building.
For me, I see this and think - numerical integration. Before that, let me look at the physics. Here is a diagram of someone jumping off a…

It's odd that I have talked about these forces so much. First, I talked about how centrifugal forces were not real and the difference between centrifugal and centripetal forces. Then I talked about how sometimes, fake forces are good. Finally, I talked about the origin of the words centrifugal and centripetal. (note: "talked about" means wrote a blog post)
In thinking about centripetal forces, I realized that I could come up with a situation in which the centrifugal force is the centripetal force. This is great. I can end all the confusion between centrifugal and centripetal by making a…

This post has been sitting in my mind for quite some time. Really, it is about mechanics - not about pendulums. What is the goal in mechanics (classical mechanics, if you like)? Generally, it is to find out how something changes over time. If you could get an equation of motion, that would do it.
As Matt (Built on Facts) did a while ago, it can be shown that you can get the equation of motion for a mass on a spring with normal Newtonian mechanics or with Lagrangian mechanics. Let me summarize two different ways of looking at the motion of an object.
The Newtonian Way
Maybe that isn't the…

One of the roads near my house was just redone. They added some awesome retroreflectors in the middle. Here is a shot. No wait, I don't have a picture of that. I tried to take one, but it just didn't turn out very well. Oh, you know what it is supposed to look like. It looks like little tiny lights in the middle of the road.
What makes these things so cool? Why do they look like they are battery powered or something? Maybe it would be helpful to compare retroreflectors to some other materials. I can group stuff in the following manner:
Shiny stuff
Non-shiny stuff
Retroreflectors…