There are more than one thousand demonstrations in our collection. For any given topic, there could be several that are relevant to what you want to teach. How do you choose which demonstration or demonstrations are the right choice for your class?
The Lecture Demonstration staff are always happy to talk over the options and provide recommendations, of course! Here are some of the issues we consider when making recommendations, or that you can consider when making selections.
1. Clear topical relevance: Obviously, every physics demonstration really can show many aspects of physics – they are all physical objects, after all! But each has some particular aspect of physical principles it is designed to highlight. While it can certainly be used in other ways as well, it can require more advance planning to make sure that what you want to show is clear to your audience.
2. Conceptual complexity: Who are you teaching, and how much background do they have? How deeply do you want to delve in your explanations? Some demonstrations are well suited to giving a brief, simple explanation of a concept. Others are more appropriate for extended discussion and analysis, perhaps with extended mathematical calculations. Still others can be used in a variety of ways, perhaps with or without various accessories to change how the demonstration is presented.
3. Time requirements: Some demonstrations can be presented very quickly in class, serving as a brief and clear illustration of a concept. Others need more time, either to explain and analyze as mentioned above; or simply more time to operate – some demonstrations involve processes that take place over time (such as the ever-popular M7-31: Tyndall’s Experiment, showing the changes in the scattering of light over the course of a chemical reaction, or P2-01: Photoelectric Effect and Planck’s Constant, which requires taking several measurements at different wavelengths before you can carry out the calculation). Sometimes, when one demonstration will take too much time for you, we may be able to recommend a substitute that will illustrate the same or a similar point more quickly.
4. Presentation and logistical needs: Some demonstrations work best in large rooms for a large audience; others are more suited to small groups that can gather around to see it, or interact hands-on. Sometimes classes are taught in the Physics Lecture Halls where extended preparation space is available and we can spend an hour or more before your class setting up and calibrating the demonstration, while other times a class can only use demonstrations that can be rolled in quickly on a cart between class periods, or even need demonstrations that can be carried across campus by hand. Some instructors and some students may have different comfort levels with noise or messiness or the need for safety equipment. And all of these are fine things! We try to the best of our ability to make sure that the demonstrations we deliver are appropriate to the faculty and students we serve, wherever they may be.
When we’re helping you select a demonstration, we may ask you about some of these things, or make predictions based on the class you’re teaching. We do our best to provide the demonstration that suits your needs for any situation.