As a science teacher I am always on the hunt for tools that will enhance the learning experience for students. It’s great when you find something useful, but putting the Physics 101 app into that category would be a gross understatement. Physics 101 is a “Swiss army knife” of physics, useful in so many ways, once you start using it you wonder how you ever taught physics without it. Please read on for a full review of Physics 101 features and functionality.
Purchase and Download
For Mac and PC. Free trial available. Get the latest information at the Physics 101 website.
Review – Formulas
What is the Physics 101 app? At its heart, the Physics 101 does a fantastic job of presenting a vast collection of interactive physics formulas. In fact, that is the default screen you are presented with when you start up the app. Simply click on the formula you want (or toggle through them if you like):
As you can clearly see from the image, each formula presents the relevant variables for which you can input values. Physics 101 then does the calculation for you… simple! I really like the Equation Information box, this is invaluable for beginner students who are trying to differentiate between the formulas.
Review – Features and Simulators
If the Physics 101 app was only the aforementioned 75+ formulas, it would be a valuable tool. But wait, there’s more… much more! Physics 101 is also packed with a ton of indispensable simulators and tools. Let’s have a look at them! You can conveniently toggle any of them from the icons at the top of the main window…
… or you can choose them via the “Features” menu. What you get in the Features is really a smorgasbord of physics goodness. For example, the Motion Analysis tool alone is an excellent tool for illustrating the relationships between position/velocity/acceleration. You can easily set and change initial conditions and then see the resulting graphs:
Note that the Motion Analysis tool also allows you to zoom the graphs and see the data tables behind the graphs, nice touches!
The Vector Calculator is quite handy. Enter the magnitude and angle of an vector to get the x and y components – keep entering as many vectors as you want, and the calculator gives you the resultant. Nice!
One of my favourite features is the Projectiles tool. It makes projectile analysis a breeze by letting you manipulate all possible projectile parameters – initial velocity, launch angle, gravitational acceleration (there’s even an planet menu!) – but I think the slickest feature is the auto-adjusting graph that also allows you to mouse over and see all the relevant variables at any point in the object’s motion.
The Free Body Diagram tool is superb. As physics teachers we all know how students often struggle with free body diagrams. This tools presents 13 different situations, and in each one students change friction coefficients (friction can be turned off if desired), mass, tension, angles, and more. This is really an indispensable tool!
There are a lot of other useful tools for you to explore. Here’s a brief synopsis:
- The Gravity Inspector allows you to enter variables for the universal law of gravitation… presets for all the planetary bodies in the solar system are especially handy.
- The CircuitSim feature presents three circuit situations: series circuit, two branch parallel, and three branch parallel. You can’t simulate any other circuit design, but within those 3 you can change resistor and voltage values, with total resistance calculated for you. There’s a handy resistor colour code calculator included as well.
- Optics provides a very nice Snell’s Law simulation, it is very easy to adjust the indices of refraction and the incident angle. Students can clearly see the resulting refraction.
- The Spectrum feature is simple, it presents a slider through the electromagnetic spectrum – students can see the frequency and wavelength change as the slider is moved.
- The Orbital simulator is straightforward, present input conditions are provided for the whole solar system and Haley’s Comet. A handy slider allows you to control eccentricity.
- The Superposition feature allows you to combine up to three different waveforms. As you would expect, you can control the amplitude, frequency, and phase constant for each wave, and a very nice diagram shows the resultant, combined waveform.
- The Oscillations feature has a toggle for “Mass on a Spring” and “Pendulum”… that’s good! As you toggle, the formula variables change accordingly, so it’s just a matter of entering the constant, mass, gravitational acceleration, string length, frequency, etc. as appropriate. The it’s just a matter of sitting back and enjoying the zoomable plot of position, velocity, and acceleration! This is a really impressive feature, and I see it as a very nice companion to actual laboratory oscillation investigations.
One thing that needs to be mentioned is the “More Info” button that is included in most of the features. This provides wonderful extra information to help explain the relevance of the simulator and provides great hints. For example, if you want to use the RelativisticFX feature but that concept is over your head, you’ll want to check out the extra info, it’s very helpful:
Just when you think Physics 101 couldn’t possibly cram in more features, you should know that the app also contains a Unit Converter, Calculator, Quadratic Equation grapher, Center of Mass calculator, and a great LabCalc (enter data values, and LabCalc calculates the overall average, standard deviation and percent error).
And if that’s not enough, you also get a great Periodic Table which provides atomic mass, ionic charge, and also a molecular weight calculator for compounds.
The functionality provided by the Physics 101 app is exceptional. I’ve been using it in my instruction for awhile now, and it is rock solid in terms of reliability, I have seen no rough edges. The plethora or features speak for themselves… there are a ton of indispensable features in this app for physics instruction, I know my students have benefitted from it immensely. It is most definitely worth the investment.