Virtual Reality Physics
A project of the OSU PERG
Our simulations have been tested at Ohio State in several small-scale
studies and were implemented for a large-scale test in our introductory
Calculus-based physics sequence in the spring of 2004.
We have used the simulations as lecture demonstrations, as supplements
to lab experiences, and on their own as the only source of instruction.
Although they are flexible and can be used in many environments, it is
our belief that the most natural place for the simulations is in
In lab, they can be used as abstractions of common lab equipment such
as low-friction carts and tracks. For example, it is easy to achieve
uniform motion with any desired velocity in the simulation, but options
for doing the same with real equipment are problematic (fan carts at
terminal velocity are complex and not precisely adjustable, and cars with
motorized wheels can't be easily nudged by external forces because of
their gearing). Also, the friction between simulated objects and the
ground can be adjusted far more precisely than that of real objects, or
even turned off completely.
Below are some of the modules and labs we have used with the
simulations. These modules have not been tested rigorously and
should not be seen as "the" curriculum with which to use our simulations.
They are provided primarily as examples of some of the activities we have
asked students to perform.
- VR tutorials
- 1D Motion tutorial module (PDF) -
Used as part of a series of one-on-one interviews for a study in
spring of 2003, this activity for the 1D motion simulation
addresses Newton's 2nd Law ideas, both with and without
- Collisions tutorial module (PDF) -
Used in a small-groups tutorial study in fall 2003, this
activity uses the collisions program and focuses, primarily, on
Newton's 3rd Law. It asks the students to repeatedly predict and
observe the magnitudes of the forces felt by colliding carts in
several different cases, such as one being more massive than the
other, one having a stiffer bumper, and so on.
- VR-based Labs, spring 2004
- 1D Motion (DOC) - This is an
adaptation of our department's pre-existing 1D Motion lab which
makes use of a low-friction cart on a level track, accelerated by
a hanging weight, and measured with a sonic ranger. Students are
asked to apply forces to the simulated object such that they
reproduce the motion graphs of the cart. Students also produce
motions with the simulation that are impractical to achieve with
the real equipment.
- Collision (DOC) - Again, this lab
is a modification of a pre-existing lab, although in this case the
changes are more substantial. Our colliding-cart lab was reworked
to focus on the idea of impulse, and confirming that the time
integral of F is the same as the change in momentum. With normal
classroom equipment, this is nearly impossible as there is no way
to measure the forces exerted during a collision. The VR
simulation, however, is founded on dynamics and can output a
record of the forces applied to each cart for the purposes of
plotting or calculations.
- 2D Motion (PDF) - Unlike the
previous two labs, this activity was written from scratch because
we had no pre-existing lab dealing with the concept of centripetal
force. Students use the simulation and a very low-tech "physical"
analog of tapping checkers and ball bearings around circular paths
with their pencil.