Inspiring Curiosity with the Atmospheric Mat

Electricity from Mud?! Educational Innovations Blogby Nancy Foote

A curiosity table.  That’s what I call it.  Whenever my students have a free minute (which rarely happens), I encourage them to investigate the materials on the curiosity table in our classroom.

Today I added something new—an Atmospheric Mat.

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An Introduction to the Plasma Globe

donna_giachettiby Donna Giachetti

I have the great fortune of working for a company that inspires—indeed, requires—me to learn something new every day.  I’m constantly scouring online science journals for tidbits on the latest in nanotechnology, the wonders of electrochemistry, or even something as relatively simple as the ultraviolet spectrum.

I’m not claiming I always understand everything I learn… but I try my best.  (Hey, I was an English major in college, so I’m not as scientifically inclined as most of my colleagues.)  Luckily, I can count on my trusty coworkers to help me out.

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The Plasma Globe, Inside and Out

Ted Beyer, Educational Innovations, Ted Beyer

Nikola Tesla.  Amazing guy.  He came up with a huge number of inventions, but outside the scientific community he is largely overshadowed by his better known contemporary, Thomas Edison.  Tesla developed a stream of innovations that we use every day—things like AC power, fluorescent lighting, on and on.

What you might not know is that Tesla, when working on electric light in February of 1894, came up with the concept for what we now call the Plasma Globe.

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Concentrating Sunlight: It’s Easy!

Martin Sagendorfby: Martin Sagendorf

On a Bright Day:

A great deal of energy falls on the Earth’s surface – roughly 1 kW per square meter.  This is about 0.6 Watt per square inch.  This doesn’t sound like much energy, but suppose we collect and concentrate 63 square inches of this sunlight?  These 63 square inches would collect about 38 Watts of energy.  This doesn’t sound like much, but…

Suppose We Could Then:

Concentrate these 38 Watts into an area of only 1/8 of a square inch?  This is exactly what we can do with an inexpensive plastic Fresnel lens.  We’ll focus the sunlight into an area 3/8” in diameter – this is the equivalent of 300 Watts per square inch!  With this energy level, we can easily ignite a piece of wood, boil some water, and even melt a penny.

A Suitable Device:

Is described in the book, Physics Demonstration Apparatus and in the blog The Sun’s Energy.

Physics Demonstration Apparatus Book

Now we’re going to describe how to build a much simpler version that works just as well – one that uses a very inexpensive Fresnel lens and is very easy to construct. Read the rest of this entry »

Making Optics Demos Easier

Martin Sagendorfby:  Martin Sagendorf

We’ve all likely encountered the time-consuming effort required to set up an optics demo; all the necessary components are on hand, but they don’t easily work together.  The difficulty is obvious: the various components are either ‘loose’ or mounted at differing heights.  Thus: wasted and frustrating time ‘shimming’ with books and pads to match the heights of the components.

The solution is simple: choose a height (above bench top) and mount every optical component at the same (optical centerline) height.  But, how does one choose a height?  Simple: first, determine the optical component with the highest centerline then second, build supports for all the other components – matching this centerline height.

I began with a 100 Watt clear light bulb mounted upon a wooden base – the center of the filament was 4-3/4” above the bench top.  I then ensured that everything else I had, or planned to incorporate in demos, could be centered at this height.

Optics Demo

The supports shown in the following illustrations are of ¾” pine – either screwed or glued together.  Where required, various combinations of rubber feet and jackscrews provide support and positioning capability.  When applicable, stacks of steel washers are incorporated to add stability. Read the rest of this entry »