How do you keep aviation and engineering students’ eyes from glossing over or their hands from scratching their heads when teaching them the vital subject of physics?
Nowadays, spreadsheets, blocks, pulleys and ramps may not cut it.
How about a real-time computer simulation where you follow a plane’s path and movement based on various factors related to aviation physics? That just might do the trick.
Brian Lane, assistant professor of physics at Jacksonville University, came up with just that. It’s called PHYSics of FLIght Simulator (PhysFliS), and his article on it titled “Simulation of the Physics of Flight” has been published in the academic journal “The Physics Teacher” (see table of contents here).
“This publication is a big accomplishment for me, as it indicates that the simulation I’ve developed has hit the ‘sweet spot’ in introductory physics between activities that are interesting and activities that are mathematically accessible to non-experts,” Lane said. “There are very few topics in that sweet spot.”
Standard physics textbooks are filled with problems involving blocks on ramps and attached to pulleys, but which students will never see in real life, Lane said. Introductory students want to see problems about interesting scenarios (roller coasters, rail guns, car engines and more), but they can’t get very far in them because they lack the mathematical training.
Lane said he hopes readers of the journal (mostly instructors of high school or introductory college-level physics courses) will use the simulation he’s developed in their courses as a demonstration, in-class activity or homework assignment.
“Computer simulations have proven to be a great supplement or even alternative to laboratory exercises,” he said. “This simulation can be used to teach basic physics concepts in a context that students find interesting — and it might help a few students overcome fear of flying, like it did with me!”
The simulation can be used to pique students’ interest, teach a number of physics concepts and teach computational investigation techniques. It’s used in a single-semester introductory physics course for students pursuing a degree in aviation management and flight operations while training to become commercial or military pilots. These aviation majors comprise about 10 percent of JU’s student population, Lane notes in the article.
Here’s a snippet from the article:
The Aviation Physics course was designed to fulfill (aviation majors’) laboratory science requirement and apply introductory physics principles to aviation. These students typically need opportunities to explicitly develop their sense of relevance and confidence in physics concepts and skills. PhysFliS was thus designed to show them the application of some of the central concepts of introductory physics to their interests and develop their confidence.
The topic of flight is also of interest in general introductory mechanics courses, as it represents an exciting application that can generate student interest, as evidenced by continuing theoretical and experimental explorations of flight by physics educators. PhysFliS can supplement these explorations with computational activities.