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7 Physics Lab Experiments that are Easier to Teach with Labster

Ginelle Testa
Teaching with Labster
December 14, 2022

You want the best physics labs for your students. Maybe lesson planning is taking up too much time, you’re recycling the same labs over and over, physics lab equipment is too expensive, or you’re a new teacher. 

Whatever the case, we’ve gathered seven physics lab experiments you can teach your students. We’ve also matched accompanying virtual labs that can help teach the experiments.

  1. Propagation of sound
  2. Quasi-elastic neutron scattering (QENS) 
  3. Fission
  4. Conservation of energy
  5. Collisions
  6. Springs and masses
  7. Waves

1. Propagation of sound

Since we encounter sound daily, studying its nature and properties is essential. When an object vibrates, it creates pressure variation in the nearby medium particles. These areas of compressions and rarefactions constitute a complete sound wave. And this is how the sound waves propagate in the air or any other medium. Since sound waves are invisible, they’re hard to visualize. With a virtual lab, you can see the process unfolding. 

In Labster’s Propagation of Sound simulation, students will explore how sound is produced by vibrating objects, how it propagates through different media, and how it is detected by their ears. By experimenting with the frequency and amplitude of a sound wave, they’ll discover what affects the pitch and loudness of the sound that they hear. Using this information, they will then help a musician to tune their guitar just before their concert starts.

Labster lab simulation screenshot depicting an ear with sound particles traveling through it and a labeled chart of the ear

2. Quasi-elastic neutron scattering (QENS) 

Quasi-elastic neutron scattering (QENS) is a technique used to measure dynamic processes in solid materials such as plastic, ceramics, gels, and many more. Theoretical learning of this topic is complicated; we cannot see these reactions before our eyes. However,  virtual labs make it possible to visualize concepts. Further, the Backscattering Spectrometer required to do this procedure is incredibly expensive and, therefore, inaccessible to most real-world classroom labs.

In Labster’s QENS simulation, students perform quasi-elastic neutron scattering experiments at a research facility while helping a group of scientists in the Arctic. They’ll observe the structure of atomic layers inside a battery and see how some atoms move when it discharges.

3. Fission

The main job of a reactor is to house and control nuclear fission—a process where atoms split and release energy. According to Energy.gov, there are only 92 in the United States. It’s not even possible to get access to one! With Labster, students can use this unique equipment. 

In Labster’s Fission simulation, students will learn about nuclear fission and nuclear power science. What does it look like when we split the atom? What reactions are possible with fission? Why does it make radioactive waste? With their team's nuclear scientist missing, it's up to the learner to figure out all these questions. 

Labster lab simulation 3D rendering of a nucleus with a user prompt to fire a neutron

4. Conservation of energy

Energy conservation is the most applicable principle in our daily lives. So, it is one of the fundamental concepts teachers must teach in the fundamental physics course. You could use a simple pendulum to express this concept or a rollercoaster in our virtual labs!

In Labster’s Conservation of Energy simulation, students will learn how manipulating a roller coaster's mass, height, and velocity affects its overall potential and kinetic energy. They’ll apply the concept of energy conservation to calculate the roller coaster's mechanical energy at different positions.

5. Collisions

A collision occurs when two solid objects move toward each other and exert forces on each other for a very short time. There are several abstract terms, such as elastic force, inelastic force, momentum, and energy that are used to explain this topic, so it can be challenging for students to keep up. To learn the concept, they could do mini car crashes in the classroom, or play pool with Isaac Newton in our simulation!

In Labster’s Collision simulation, students learn how to use momentum conservation to predict the outcome of a collision and demonstrate how momentum is conserved in elastic and inelastic collisions.

Labster collisions experiment simulation featuring a pool table with information about the various balls on it

6. Springs and masses

Springs and masses involve many complex terms: Hooke's law, velocity, displacement, and other mechanism parameters. They can be a lot to wrap one’s head around. Virtual labs break it all down for students. Likely, you don’t have access to a Seismometer in class, so this virtual lab also gives you access to one to learn these concepts.

In Labster’s Springs and Masses simulation, students will play with vertical springs connected to different masses in ideal conditions. They’ll learn the main properties of a special oscillation type: simple harmonic motion. This is one of the most fundamental concepts in physics, and it’s used to describe many different phenomena, from the vibration of a tuning fork to the vibrations of the electrons in an atom. In the end, they’ll get to see springs in action in one of their many applications: a seismic station.

7. Waves

Think of a wave traveling around the audience in a football stadium. Each person stands and then sits down again, one after the other, creating a ripple effect that moves around the audience. The individuals don’t move from their seats, yet we can see the wave moving all the way around the stadium. So what is actually happening? As each individual stands and sits they exert a burst of energy, and trigger the next person to do the same. This way the wave transports energy around the stadium, moving from person to person.

We’ve created a “Wave Blaster” machine to teach students about waves. 

In the Waves simulation, students will learn about waves, their properties, types, and how they appear in the real world.

Labster waves simulation demonstrating how particles in a wave move

Question for consideration:

  • How could you incorporate these virtual labs into your teaching plans?
  • What are some other physics labs you wish you could teach?
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