The New Science Center Building (NSCB)

Plenary Presentation Abstracts

Plenary presentations will take place in the New Science Center Building (NSCB) Auditorium at the College of Charleston, Charleston, SC (GPS coordinates: latitude= 32dgr 47' 5.15" N and longitude= 79dgr 56' 23.82" W).

Session chairperson: Dr. Linda Jones, College of Charleston
Contributed Talks Session 1 between 8:00 am - 9:30 am
All talks are 15 minutes.

8:00 am -8:15 am
There's something for everyone when doing computational physics with EJS
Larry Engelhardt, Francis Marion University
Phone: 843-661-1452, Email:
"Easy Java Simulations" (EJS) is free software for creating physics simulations, which can then be run on any computer (PC, Mac, or Linux) by simply double-clicking. We will discuss how EJS can be of use to every audience, from computer-savvy scientists who need to visualize their data, to beginning students who are trying to make sense of the equations that they wrote down during class, to teachers who want to quickly make a plot to include on a test.

8:15 am - 8:30 am
Teaching Physics with Sustainable Energies via Digital Technologies
David Rosengrant, Matthew Laposata, Kennesaw State University
Phone: 678 797 2482, Email:
Many college and high school students do not understand the basic physics behind sustainable energies. As a result of this, students have erroneous beliefs about sustainable energies. Thus, the "Sustainable Homes: Building 'Smarter' Houses Today for a Better Tomorrow" project aims to combine physics with environmental science so that students can better understand both sciences. Through these exercises, students will: see detailed descriptions of sustainable housing technologies and how they differ from conventional systems; use data from actual sustainable homes, including the "Weatherford Place" development in Roswell, GA, to critically analyze the performance of these technologies; and conduct hands-on activities that demonstrate how these sustainable technologies operate on a smaller scale. Ultimately, the project's goal is to use digital educational technologies, distributed through the Internet, to better educate students about sustainable housing technologies and to provide an engaging "vehicle" for teaching the fundamental science principles that underlie these technologies.

8:30 am - 8:45 am
MasteringPhysics by Pearson Education: The Next Generation of Online Assessment
Leidy Rebecca, Pearson Education Representative
For years online homework systems have done an adequate job of testing students, but have done a poor job of tutoring students if they need help. MasteringPhysics is the first adaptive-learning online tutorial and assessment system for introductory physics. Based on extensive research of the precise concepts with which students struggle, the system is able to coach students with feedback specific to their needs, and with simpler sub-problems and hints when students get stuck. The result is targeted tutorial help to optimize student study time and maximize learning. This session will demonstrate the MasteringPhysics program and show how instructors can use the program to save time and identify student problems.

8:45 am - 9:00 am
How is Precession of a Heavy Top Possible?
Svilen Kostov, Georgia Southwestern State University, Daniel Hammer, Georgia Southwestern State University
Email:, Phone: 229 931 2321
In this paper we examine the familiar question of why a heavy top (or gyroscope) released from rest at a non-zero angle with respect to the vertical axis appears not to fall but instead begins to precess about the vertical axis. The standard explanation given in most introductory physics texts, although compact and logical in appearance, is incomplete at best. To the more thoughtful student it should appear problematic. In an attempt to get a better understanding of the phenomenon, we revisit the corresponding discussion in the Feynman Lectures on Physics and use conservation of angular momentum to write down a simple model for this effect. We follow this with an experiment to test the implied relation between precessional velocity and the asymptotic dip angle and obtain excellent agreement between theory and data. This confirms that the heavy top does indeed fall (if only slightly). It also suggests that in order to properly understand precession, one has to consider the wobbling (nutation) as the transfer mechanism of angular momentum in the vertical direction. Nutation is usually neglected in the discussion of precession at the elementary level. This may lead to a somewhat inaccurate understanding of this effect.

9:00 am - 9:15 am
Computer modeling in introductory mechanics: what are the limits?
Marcos D Caballero, Balachandra Suri, Matthew A Kohlmyer* and Michael F. Schatz
School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology * Department of Physics, North Carolina State
Phone: 770-827-3185, Email:
Computer modeling is taught in few introductory physics courses. For those in which computer modeling is taught, the student experience is generally limited to the laboratory. We have worked to extend this experience to other aspects of the introductory course, including homework and exams. We present our experiences in developing and deploying this homework sets and the subsequent evaluation of students computer modeling abilities in a set of large introductory courses (N 500). In addition, results from a evaluative assignment will be presented. This work is supported by NSF DUE-0942076.

9:15 am -9:30 am
Return of the Ruben's Tube
Matt Marone, Mercer University, Department of Physics.
Email:, Phone: 478-301-2597
Ruben's tubes seem to be making a comeback. Youtube is full of people who are trying to recreate the famous experiment dating back to 1915. There are also numerous websites that explain how to make a Ruben's tube. It seems that very little attention is given to the possibility of an explosive air/gas mixture. This is especially true when the tube is turned off and the pressure in the tube decreases. Could there be a flash back into the tube? We have devised a method to keep all combustion outside of the tube. Nitrogen gas is used to purge the tube before igniting the gas. When extinguishing the flame, we do not simply turn off the gas supply. Instead, we mix in some nitrogen, so that the pressure in the tube is always greater than atmosphere. This forces all of the propane out of the tube. As the propane is consumed, the flames just gradually die out hovering above the tube.

9:30 am - 10:00 am
Coffee Break (NSC Hall Atrium)
Poster Session (NSC Hall Atrium)

Session chairperson: Dr. Linda Jones, College of Charleston
Contributed Talks Session 2 between 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
All talks are 15 minutes.

10:00 am - 10:15 am
Quantitative Measurements of Faraday's Law in the Introductory Laboratory
Joel C. Berlinghieri, The Citadel, Department of Physics
Email:, Phone: 843 953 6942
A magnetic pellet is dropped from increasing heights along the axis and through a coil. The induced potential and induced current are measured using a PASCO current/voltage sensor which is attached to a matched impedance connected across the coil. The setup of apparatus is described in Physics Laboratory Manual for Scientist and Engineers, by Joel C. Berlinghieri, Tavenner, 2009, ISBN 971-1-930208-35-3. A simple model is used to analyze the potential, power, and energy of the induced pulses which are generated as a function of drop height.

10:15 am - 10:30 am
On teaching parallel and series connections in dc circuits
Tatiana Krivosheev, Clayton State University,
Email:, Phone: 678-466-4783
As anyone who ever taught dc circuits knows, some students seem to have an intuitive understanding of the difference between parallel and series connections and are able to work with them successfully without any difficulty no matter how complicated the network of resistors/capacitors is. For others, it is a challenging task even with a limited number of elements involved. I present a simple technique that helps students to differentiate the two basic connections and understand the behavior of currents in electric circuits containing more than one resistor.

10:30 am - 10:45 am
Prescriptive Task Analysis' in the Teaching and Learning of Introductory College Physics
J.B. Sharma, Gainesville State College
Email:, Phone: 678 717 3812
The mastery of the standard genres of physics problems taught in an introductory course is necessary for success in further mathematical science courses. Most physics problems at the introductory level do lend themselves to solutions using standard techniques. These standard techniques can be broken down into a series of steps or a 'prescriptive task' and can be used as a useful tool by students to become more effective problem solvers. These 'prescriptive tasks' allow students to tackle physics word problems successfully and set the stage for a deeper understanding of the underlying principles. This can be useful in learning Newton's laws of motion, vector analysis, circuits and other topics in physics. This pedagogical approach also touches on an old debate in philosophy of objectivism vs. constructivism. This presentation will argue that both approaches can complement and reinforce each other. Case studies of the use of this pedagogy in introductory physics courses will be presented and discussed.

10:45 am - 11:00 am
Interstellar Dust in Distant Galaxies
Varsha Kulkarni, Univ. of South Carollina, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, Columbia, SC 29208
Phone: 803 777 6293, Email:
Microscopic solid dust grains are common in the interstellar matter in our Milky Way galaxy, and provide seeds for the formation of planets. Furthermore, attenuation of light from distant galaxies by foreground interstellar dust can seriously alter our view of the distant Universe--including the measurements of the size and expansion rate of the universe. Despite the importance of interstellar dust, very little is known about the nature of dust in distant galaxies. As a step toward improving this situation, we are carrying out a study of interstellar dust in some distant galaxies selected by the presence of strong absorption signatures in the light of background quasars. Our study is based on ground-based optical observations from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and infrared observations obtained by us with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. We report the detection of silicate/carbonaceous dust absorption features in 5 distant galaxies at redshifts 0.4 < z < 1.3, allowing us to directly study dust grains from 5-9 billion years ago. We discuss how the strength of dust absorption in these distant galaxies correlates with other chemical and kinematic properties of the galaxies. We also discuss how the nature of dust in these galaxies compares to that in the Milky Way. [This research is partially supported by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Science Foundation.]

11:00 am - 11:15 am
Human Mental Functionality: What You Can Count On In Your Physics Students
Henry Gurr, University of South Carolina Aiken Emeritus
Email:, Phone: 8036490424
In order to design and build an airplane, we apply statics, dynamics, aerodynamics, and materials science, etc. Similarly, in order to teach we need an applicable science. After summarizing my last two AAPT presentations, which largely discussed how quite difficult problems, are often remarkably solved by a "Flash of Insight **AHA**", my talk will build on the theme of the "The Human Brain As a General Purpose Problem Solver", For Such Abilities As Perception, Memory, Writing, Thinking, etc. From this, I will discuss additional of my observations concerning Human Mental Functionality and Learning. The observations so discussed, may contribute to an eventual "applied science of teaching & learning". The will focus on classroom application, rather on psychology. And since the audience is as fully experienced in these matters as the author, they will be invited to contribute throughout the talk.

11:15 am - 11:30 am
Probing the Composition of Interstellar Dust Over the Past 7 Gyr
Monique C. Aller, Varsha P. Kulkarni, University of South Carolina, Donald G. York, University of Chicago, Giovanni Vladilo (Osservatorio Astronomico di Trieste), Daniel E. Welty (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), Debopam Som (University of South Carolina)
Interstellar dust plays a crucial role in studies of the evolution of galaxies, impacting both physical processes driving the evolution, such as star-formation, and the heating, cooling, and ionization of interstellar material, as well as affecting our interpretation of the radiation observed from distant objects. However, while the properties of dust in the local interstellar medium have been studied extensively, little is known about the properties of the dust in higher redshift objects. Utilizing radiation from distant quasars, which has passed through foreground damped Lyman-alpha absorbers (DLAs), it is possible to probe the chemical compositions of intermediate-redshift galaxies. We present infrared spectra obtained with the Spitzer Space Telescope for one such system, PKS 1830-211, and discuss our observations of the 9.7 micron silicate absorption feature produced by the foreground (z=0.886) DLA, and the implications for dust properties in high redshift galaxies.

11:30 am - 11:45 am
High-fidelity audio and the temporal resolution of human hearing
Milind Kunchur, Univ. of South Carolina, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy
Phone: 803 777 1907, Email:
Many misconceptions and mysteries surround the perception and reproduction of musical sounds. Common specifications, such as frequency response, provide an inadequate indication of the sound quality. Typically, electronically reproduced sound bears a distant resemblance to the sound of an acoustic instrument. High-end audio enthusiasts have long claimed that minute errors in the time domain (arising from jitter in digital sources, smearing in wires, speaker misalignments, etc.) can significantly deteriorate sound quality. These claims are usually dismissed as lunacy because they imply that the human ear can discriminate timing errors in microseconds, which seems to defy the high frequency hearing limit of 18 kHz. Our research shows the inapplicability of the usually assumed time-frequency relationship through neurophysiological modeling of the hearing system and psychoacoustical measurements on human subjects. In this talk I will discuss some of the important elements of good sound reproduction, give brief summary of our blind listening tests on human subjects, and give a simplified explanation of how our ear works. More information can be found at: [This research was partially supported by the University of South Carolina Office of Research and Health Sciences Research Funding.]

11:45 am - 12:00 pm
The AAPT Membership Video contest
Frank Lock, Retired high school physics teacher
Email:, Phone: 941-475-1578
Information about the AAPT video contest will be presented for discussion about SACS preparing an entry for the contest during the meeting. The theme of the contest is "Why someone should join AAPT." The video goal is to explain, in a clear and entertaining way, why one should join AAPT.

Disclaimer: All presentations at SACS-AAPT Fall 2010 reflect the views of the individual speakers and do not represent those of the AAPT or any of its supporters.