Springs and Masses (Principles): Learn how to detect and record earthquakes

Become a spring oscillation master and help determine the magnitude and epicenter of an earthquake using just a mass and a spring.

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  • Description
  • Features

This is the principles (high school) version of the simulation. For a more advanced version please see Springs and Masses: Learn how to detect and record earthquakes.

Enter the ideal world… as physicists see it! In the Springs and Masses simulation, you will play with vertical springs connected to different masses in ideal conditions. You’ll learn the main properties of a special type of oscillation: 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, you will get to see springs in action in one of their many applications: a seismic station.

Ideal springs in ideal conditions

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you attached a mass to an ideal vertical spring and you could neglect the resistance of air? These conditions are called ideal conditions and are very important for letting physicists understand the world around us. In a real lab, you can only observe approximations to ideal conditions, but in this virtual simulation, you can forget about all the real-world messy conditions. In the springs and masses simulation, you will play with a vertical spring that moves without friction and observe its motion when no air resistance acts on it.

Harmonic oscillator

Simple harmonic motion is one of the most fundamental concepts in physics. In the Springs and Masses simulation, you’ll work on an ideal system and determine its equilibrium for different combinations of springs and masses. Springs are everywhere around us, but do you know what distinguishes the spring in your pen from that in the suspensions of cars? Here, you will learn how Hooke’s law can help you determine the elasticity of different springs, and you will get to measure it yourself.

Build your own seismograph:

Among their many uses and applications, a mass attached to a spring is the main building block of seismometers. Seismometers are the instruments used to detect seismic waves and other ground vibrations. Here you will get to assemble your own seismic station and learn how to read a seismogram, the recording output of a seismograph.

Will you be able to detect the magnitude and epicenter of an earthquake using just a mass and a spring?

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Become a spring oscillation master and help determine the magnitude and epicenter of an earthquake using just a mass and a spring.

Techniques in lab
Seismometer
Learning objectives

At the end of this simulation, you will be able to...

  • Understand the motion of a mass oscillating on a vertical spring
  • Determine the equilibrium position of a vertical oscillator
  • Understand the basic properties of Simple Harmonic Motion
  • Understand Hooke’s law in relation to a spring-mass system
  • Determine the magnitude and epicenter of an earthquake from a seismogram
Simulation features

Length: 25
Accessibility mode: Not available
Languages: English (United States)

NGSS

HS-PS4-1, HS-PS3-3, HS-ETS1-2, HS-ETS1-4, HS-ESS2-2

IB

2.1 – Motion

4.1 – Oscillations

AP

6.1 Period of Simple Harmonic Oscillators

6.2 Energy of a Simple Harmonic Oscillator

10.1 Properties of Waves

10.2 Periodic Waves