• Highlight of the Week: Gravitational Lensing Model
  • Past Highlight: Polarization
  • Demonstrations
  • How many demonstrations?
  • New Resource: Directory of Simulations
  • Spotlight: COVID-19 Animation and UMD Research
  • New Resource: Demonstration Video Channel
  • Visit the UMD COVID-19 Dashboard
  • Welcome to Spring 2022!

In astronomy, gravitational lensing is the phenomenon whereby gravitational forces around a mass bend light in a way similar to a conventional refracting lens does. When a large mass lies between an observer and the light source they're observing, sometimes that mass can bend the incoming light, causing the source to appear in a different location, or even in multiple locations at once. This can even allow an observer to see a light source that would otherwise be unobservable due to being directly behind another object.

E1 21: the lens

We have a model of this in our collection, as demonstration E1-21, a glass lens that is specially shaped to produce a similar effect to gravitational lensing. Light is bent more the closer it is to the lens' center axis. As a light source moves behind the lens, you can see the source appear to be displaced, or even see one source appear to become several, or become a ring of light around the center of the lens. All of these phenomena can be seen from gravitational lensing in space as well.

E1 21: cutaway drawing

In this drawing, you can see a cross section of part of the lens. The changing curvature produces the gravity-like effect of increasing refraction towards the center.

Try experimenting with this simulation to see it in action in a starfield!

Read more:

 gravitational lensing diagram - path of light around a mass, by R. O. Gilbert

Earlier this year, we took a look at new videos of our popular demonstrations of the polarization of light, demos M7-03 and M7-07. This week, we’re returning to the topic to check out some simulations that let you try this at home!

A faculty member holds two polarizing filters in front of a diffuse light source.

The first simulation, by Tom Walsh at the oPhysics site, lets you model a wave as it passes through a series of polarizing slits. You can independently adjust the angle of up to three such slit-filters, and see how the resulting wave responds. Experiment with it at

The second simulation, created by Andrew Duffy and hosted by Boston University, shows a graph of light intensity as it passes through a series of polarizing filters. Again, you can independently vary the angle of each of three filters, and now you can see how this changes the intensity of the light after each. Try it at


polarized sunglasses, passing reflected (polarized) light at one angle, blocking it at another

Speaking of trying things at home, this isn’t a purely academic question – this is how polarized sunglasses cut the glare from sunlight reflecting off the road without preventing you from seeing where you’re going! Try rotating a pair of polarized sunglasses and see how their effect changes with angle. It may look something like the animation below. We do this in the classroom, too – check out demonstration M7-18

Polarizer Animation by ROGilbert (PD) - a polarizing filter rotates in front of a computer screen, blocking out light at certain angles.


We’re often asked how many demonstrations we have in the collection. That’s a more complex question than it might at first seem.

At last count, we have just over 1,500 demonstrations published to the website – that is, that’s how many demonstration pages exist in the collection. But some pages describe a single setup than can be used in several different ways. Take a look at K2-61: Thomson’s Coil, for example. This single page actually describes four different, related demonstrations that can be performed with this device. They don’t require very different equipment to be delivered, just slight changes in preparation, though, and they’re usually all relevant at approximately the same point in a syllabus, so it’s simpler to list them all in one place. Conversely, there are many demonstrations that use the Optical Board – browse through section L and you will see many of them! Since ray optics is divided into several sections in the demonstrations catalog, each of the configurations of the Optical Board is listed separately, to make it easier to find the one you need; and if you’re only doing one demonstration with it, we can configure it for you in advance to save you time in class.

On the other hand, consider M1-12 and H2-22. These are both listings for Interference Transparencies, a popular way to illustrate the interaction of wavefronts. Here, we made the unusual decision to list the same demonstration twice in two different sections, since otherwise someone planning a course on sound might not think to look for relevant demonstrations in the optics section, and vice-versa. These occasional cross-references make it easier to find the demonstrations you need for your class.

And even aside from the demonstration listings as they stand, we’re often called on to combine equipment in unique ways to demonstrate something new! If it’s a combination that’s likely to be repeated or that proves useful to others, it will be added to the website, but we’re generally open to creatively reinterpreting demonstrations to fit a new class context.

Every year we add more demonstrations to the collection; and occasionally a demonstration is retired, if it no longer meets an instructional need or has been superseded by others. So defining just how many demonstrations we have might not be the right question to ask. Ask, rather, what can we demonstrate for you today?

In support of most classes moving to an online model this year, the Lecture-Demonstration staff are doing our part to help connect you to resources you need for teaching remotely. As one part of this project, we have begun compiling a Directory of Simulations from around the internet, organized by general area of physics. Find it under the Tools and Resources menu above, or click the image below.

Sample subsection titles: Electricity & Magnetism Simulations, Mathematics Simulations, Optics Simulations, Oscillations & Waves Simulations, Quantum Simulations, Thermodynamics & Statistical Mechanics Simulations

There are a tremendous number of simulations out there, that folks have been creating for years. We’re testing them out, choosing ones that we can confirm currently work (always a question as internet technology marches on) and that seem useful for our department’s classes. As of this posting, we have just over fifty simulations collected. Our initial focus has been on physics that is hard to demonstrate in the classroom, or experiments that are difficult to present as static pictures or live video.

This project is ongoing! As we continue to explore we will be adding more subjects and more demonstrations per subject. We also invite recommendations! If you have a favourite simulation, let us know (email lecdemhelp at so we can check it out and add it to the directory.

We’ll have more new projects posted soon; watch the site for news!


In our ongoing work to support remote teaching, we are pleased to announce a new resource. Over the summer of 2020, a Teaching Innovation Grant helped to create our new Demonstration Videos. These can be used for remote, hybrid, and in-person classes to present demonstrations in conjunction with class engagement questions.

The videos have their own YouTube channel, linked both here and on the Tools & Resources Menu above; check them out today!


Science is all about data, and our current pandemic is no different. 

Be sure to check the UMD COVID-19 Dashboard for the latest campus data and links to reopening plans and  proper safety procedures.

Keep Terps Safe - UMD COVID Public Dashboard


Welcome to Spring 2022 at UMD Physics!

We at the Lecture-Demonstration Facility look forward to working with you for your demonstration needs this semester, to help make your physics classes engaging and informative.

Be sure to explore our new online resources as well, including the demonstration videos channel, LecDem blog, and the directory of simulations.

If you have any questions about finding the right demonstrations or other resources for your class, access to the order form, or anything else we can help with, be sure to call or email.

Please remember to order your demonstrations before the cutoff deadline for the order form system: For morning classes, before 1PM the previous working day; for afternoon classes, before 4AM the day of the class. Where possible, we appreciate having the orders at least one full working day ahead, to ensure plenty of time to make sure everything is ready for you.