Notes from Spring, 2016, MIAAPT Meeting

Below find my notes from the Spring 2016 MIAAPT meeting, held at Cranbrook, Bloomfield Hills, MI.  As always my notes are just my notes – accuracy is not guaranteed, and they reflect what I found interesting, not necessarily a good representation of what was actually said.


Modeling Mechanics with Google Sheets, Don Pata

Talked about creating spreadsheets in Google Sheets to model (usually) kinematics behavior.  Two things that struck me in particular – when creating a graph that shows velocity as a function of time *with air resistance*, if the initial speed is greater than terminal velocity you see the object slow down as it falls, which students find intriguing.  Second, similar to LCC’s PHYS251 “Energy Conservation” lab they make an plot with experimental data showing a mass oscillating on a vertical spring, kinetic energy, potential energy, and total energy all plotted together as a function of time, total energy is just a flat line, looks beautiful.

Counterintuitive Results from Collisions Involving Rotations, Michael Faleski

He wrote a nifty app: , that allows you to collide a sticky object with a rod in space, with or without the pivot point of the rod fixed.  Results that surprised him – for certain arrangements of the pivot point and object, the center of mass of the system actually moves backwards after collision.  Second, if you want to maximize the angular velocity of the system after collision, you do NOT want the object to hit right on the end of the rod.  There is a give and take between the increased torque, and the increased moment of inertia, that makes the best collision point just a little closer to the pivot point.

Creating a Mental Model of a Radian, James DeHaan

When he asks his students to define a radian, their answers generally amount to either, “there are two pi of them in a circle” or “it is about 57 degrees”.  Talked about how a radian is really a non-arbitrary (unlike degrees) angle measure, the ratio of an arc length to a radius.

The Natural Human Electricity and its use to Operate Touchscreens, Wathiq Abdul-Razzaq

Said students think Physics labs are boring, there are no chickens hatching, we need to give them more exciting titles, like the title of his talk.  Said that when a human finger touches a touchscreen that amounts to a capacitance of about 100 pF.  Talked about a nifty demo where he physically wedges a battery between two (large) capacitor plates hooked to a voltmeter, then removes the battery, voltmeter reading does not change.  Talked about charging those plates from the static electricity of his students.

Experimenting with Impacts, Michael LoPresto

Talked about a simple lab they do in which they drop steel balls, of different masses and from different heights, into a tub of sand.  Students then measure the rim diameter of the ejected material.  They then plot the rim diameter on the y-axis, initial potential energy on the x-axis.  He cited a paper which showed that if most of the energy goes into ejecting the material the graph goes like E^1/4, whereas if most of the energy goes into digging the hole the graph goes like E^something_I_forget.  In any case students get something close to E^1/4.  A questioner mentioned that Purdue has an “Impact Earth” app that does similar theoretical calculations.

Cheap Sensors Allow for Real Questions, Steve Dickie

Talked about how the Maker Movement has resulted in many cheap analog sensors.  These sensors can actually be integrated with LoggerPro – you can purchase a Vernier cable with analog LabPro connector on one side, just loose wires on the other side, and attach your maker movement sensor.  LoggerPro will just record the voltage as a function of time, but you can add a calculated column to give the quantity you actually want.  They purchased some $30 accelerometers which they embedded in football helmets they then attacked with hammers.  In summary – sensors cheaper and more capable that a lot of the stuff you buy from Vernier.

Flipping a Class Without Flipping Out, Alan Grafe

Talked about the practical aspects of flipping a class.  Uses Notability for drawings, Camtasia for recording and editing.

How Standards Based Grading Improved Student Achievement, Joanna DeMars

Talked about assigning grades based on mastery of certain standards, rather than traditional grading.  Has 5-10 standards per unit, all standards are pass/fail, requires perfection for pass.  Subsequent reassessments get harder.  Has seen her AP passing rates go up, not sure how much of that is due to grading change.

Building a Culture for Learning Physics, Bryan Battaglia

“Failure is always an option.”  “Physics is not the most important thing.  Love is.” ~Feynman

Using Science Olympiad Events to Bring Engineering and Design Into the Classroom, James Gell

Talked about using SOINC events to help meet NGSS engineering standards, and how much students love these activities.  Especially talked about a boomilever design project, boomilever must hold 15 kg out at 40 cm, students building boomilevers with a mass of only 11 g that can do this.  At national SOINC masses get down to 6 g.

Why do we Teach Physics Like It’s 1899?, Vance Nannini

Students love space stuff.  Mentioned how much they love NASA “Seven minutes of terror” video about Curiousity lansing.  Talked about gravitational assists, elastic collision, inbound and outbound velocities of spacecraft same from perspective of the planet, from sun’s perspective outbound is much larger, planet orbit radius does shrink by a tiny amount.  Gravitational assist theory was developed in the 1920s.  “Suck less every day” his motto.

Physics of clustering and invasion of living cells, Evgeniy Khain

Hard to summarize the keynote.  Studies cancer cells from a theoretical perspective, with experimental partners who study the cells in petri dishes.  The cells will migrate their own diameter in 5-10 minutes – this is just a diffusive motion because they are in a fluid, so the distance they travel goes like the square root of time.  Time for cell division is about a day.

He specifically studies brain tumors – median survival time is about 12 months.  There are sort of three cell behaviors involved.  Cells in the inside of tumors don’t do much because they haven’t the room.  Cells on the edges of tumors have a rapidly dividing phenotype.  And then sometimes cells detach from tumors and have an invasive phenotype – for reasons not well known, the division rate of these cells falls by a factor of 10.  That might seem like a good thing, but the problem is radiation and chemotherapy target dividing cells, so the invasive cells are relatively invisible to those treatments.

He then developed a stochastic model to describe division, proliferation, and adhesion, in which cells begin at random locations in a 2-dimensional gridwork, and are then permitted to diffuse, divide, and stick together according to parameters chosen by the simulation.  Clusters of cells will form, or not, based on the adhesion parameter, but the surprise was there is actually a phase transition, a certain adhesion parameter at which, suddenly, cluster formation becomes possible.  This has also been verified experimentally.  If clusters do form, the phenotype of some cells will switch to proliferative, and a recurrence of the tumor may occur.

However, even if the adhesion parameter is too low spontaneous clustering can occur if enough cells “random walk into the same room”, and hang together for long enough (about an hour) for the phenotype to change.  In a 3 mm by 3 mm system this will happen in roughly 4 days.

Business Meeting

Fall meeting, which will be at LCC, will be coordinated with MSTA.  Teachers are interested in having higher ed help show them how to implement NGSS engineering standards.  One high school teacher mentioned he would love help putting together specific labs and projects.  The thought is that some long-term partnerships might form to this end.

Alex Azima, “We’re interested in stuff”.

Taoufik Nadji was elected new 2nd VP.

EHW and Reflections in Physics Curriculum, Taoufik Nadji

Talked about the need for student reflection on what they have learned, and this email reflection homework he has his students turn in every two weeks.  They must follow specific guidelines to reflect, question, and feel.  Reflect – summary of concepts they understood, must quote something from the textbook with page number and something from lecture.  Question – summary of concepts they would still like to understand.  Feel – a transfer summary of how they felt about what they learned, perhaps applying it to the rest of their life.

Circular Motion – Lo-Tech to Hi-Tech, Daniel Lorts and Frank Norton

Demonstrated a rotating platform they use to help teach rotation consisting of a 24″ lazy-susan base supporting a larger wooden circle.  First demo, put tube of fluid on circle, showed how angle of water depends upon location and speed.  Also attached a Vernier cart by rubber band, then spring scale, to get a measure of forces.  Did some neat demos where you lightly hold a ball on the rotating surface as well, then let it go.

Principles for Smart Teaching, Samanthi Wickramarachchi

Played a fun game to show that active learning aids memory.  Showed 14ish word pairs where, in seven cases, you had to think for two seconds to complete one of the words, in the other seven cases you were just given both.  Five minutes later people remembered better the word pairs they had to think about.

A Progress Report on the Physics Lab Curriculum Changes at Lawrence Tech, Changgong Zhou

At Lawrence, lab and lecture are still strictly divided, and the lab is only one credit – what does that say about how much we value lab work?  How much attention do instructors even pay to lab reports?  How much do students care when they only get them back two weeks after they do the lab?  They are trying to make changes so students do meaningful writing and get immediate feedback upon leaving lab, and also trying to make the labs less “do this, then this, then this…”.  Results have been good so far, students who get bad feedback even wanting to repeat parts of labs to improve their score.  He mentioned students lose 25% if they blow a fuse in lab!

A Case Study: Novel Group Interactions through Introductory Computational Physics, Michael Obsniuk

Talked about attempts to incorporate computational physics into introductory physics in an MSU course called “Projects and practices in Physics”.  The course involves a mix of analytic and computational methods.  Some students have no coding experience, so they use visual Python or are given minimally working programs they modify.  One example problem is a simulation of the motion of a satellite bound to the Earth.

Links I liked, 6/22/2015 – 6/28/2015 (recycling problems, teacher teachspans, ACLU)

1. American recycling is stalling, and the big blue bin is one reason why

Single-stream recycling is actually a big pain for processors.  And it results in a lot of waste – 1/3 of glass picked up is crushed in processing and has to be sent to landfills, perhaps contaminating other materials along the way.

2. Video of Portland tornado

Pretty dramatic footage of a tornado that went through downtown Portland, Michigan (we don’t get many up here!).  You wonder about that car that turned off-frame two seconds before it went through.  No one was killed, but that must have been one spooked driver.

3. Sermon: The Communion of Saints

Sermon from our church’s international ministry director.  Question he got from a Muslim student – “why do your imams try to drown you?”  (Baptism reference.)  He he.

4. Most Michigan Teachers Leave Before Qualifying For a Pension

Found this interesting not directly because of the pension part, but because I know that you must work 10 full-time years before becoming eligible for a pension.  Which means most Michigan teachers don’t work ten full-time years.  Huh.

5. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Breaks Up During Launch Vehicle Failure

Video at link.  Second recent failed attempt to deliver cargo to the ISS.  Space travel is still more difficult than we often think.

6. ACLU: We’re only interested in protecting some civil rights

It continues to boggle my mind that merely declining to participate in an event (like a same-sex marriage) because you have a moral problem with it is “imposing your views on others”.  However compelling someone else to participate in such an event against their will, and suing them if they don’t, isn’t?  Exactly backwards, but the ACLU doesn’t get it.  (Ed Morrissey does, though.)

7. Gay Conservatism and Straight Liberation

Russ Douthat points out the irony that while Kennedy’s decision on gay marriage argues by placing marriage on a very high pedestal, most millenials seem to be rejecting that conception of the institution.  (But I don’t think they’ll object to the ruling.)  Good read for some historical perspective.

Lansing Lugnut Fireworks

Lansing Lugnut Fireworks

Three quick takeaways from a debate on money in politics at the Lansing Center this evening

Attended a highly educational (and respectful) debate about campaign finance at the Lansing Center tonight. No really, it was fun. Debaters were Bradley A. Smith (Center for Competitive Politics) and Rich Robinson (Michigan Campaign Finance Network). Video of the debate is already up if you want to take a look.  Three takeaways:

1. Both speakers were actually agreed on the point that minimum dollar amounts at which contribution disclosure becomes required are ridiculously low – apparently especially in Michigan where the first penny you donate to a political campaign is supposed to be properly reported and disclosed. (Robinson said this law was created in an attempt to break up Democratic bingo games.) One of the practical effects of this is that in low-budget campaigns, where someone running for township trustee might spend $800 in total to get elected, is that they look around, see how complicated it would be to take $5 and $10 donations from their neighbors, and say “forget about it, I’ll just pay for the whole campaign myself”. Thus in one very obvious way these laws discourage public participation in politics – is that what we want? Said Smith, it used to be that you’d announce your candidacy, then pass around the hat and get your first donations. Do that today and you’d be breaking about ten federal laws.

2. At one point came the question, “what would happen if we eliminated maximum contribution limits to political campaigns?”. Said Smith – sounds like a terrible idea, campaigns would be like, why, they’d be like pretty much every campaign in America before 1970. Is anybody out there rejoicing at how much less influence money has in politics today, vs. before 1970 when all these laws didn’t exist?

3. Smith’s opening illustration – nobody likes the idea of the federal government listening in on your phone calls, that’s not right. Suppose it was proposed that the government would keep a record of all your political activities, you would be required to report them, and then the government would make that list available to potential employers, ex-spouses, anybody that might have it in for you could get a look – would you be in favor of that law? But in fact we already have those laws, we call them campaign finance disclosure laws.

Links I liked, 6/15/2015 – 6/21/2015 (Bikes are great, Russian censors, Midwest earthquakes)

1. US mid-continent seismicity linked to high-rate injection wells

A new study pins the blame for the increase in Midwest earthquakes on, specifically, injection wells pumping more than 300,000 barrels of wastewater into the ground each month.  Apparently smaller rate injection wells have been used for decades without this issue.

2. InterVarsity Regains Access to Cal State Campuses

Absurd rule that religious organizations could not require their student leaders to share the same religion has been… clarified?  Overturned?  Can’t tell, but in any case, IV is back.  Discouraging statistic at the end though,

Just under half (44 percent) of evangelicals told LifeWay Research recently that student groups at public schools should not be allowed to require their leaders to hold specific beliefs.

3. Why Erasing Hamilton From The $10 Bill Is Erasing Our History

Not sure I buy the conspiracy, but Steve Forbes is one fire… and opposed to losing Hamilton from our currency.

4. Propaganda Cat Brings Soviet a Nazi Deserter

Enough said.  (From January 11, 1942.)

5. Why Freddy’s BBQ From ‘House Of Cards’ Couldn’t Really Exist

A case study in how regulators prevent good things from ever existing.

6. How we discovered the dark side of wearable fitness trackers

But in analysing these findings, we also started to notice that the relationship is perhaps not as pure and unproblematic as first believed. The idea that technology is both liberating and oppressive, first articulated by philosopher Lewis Mumford in the 1930s, started to shine through. When we asked the women how they felt without their Fitbit, many reported feeling “naked” (45%) and that the activities they completed were wasted (43%). Some even felt less motivated to exercise (22%).

7. Get Rich With… Bikes

The bike will probably turn out to be the best thing ever invented for humankind. It is taking us a while to realize this, but I think more people are coming around with each generation.

Dostoevsky on Russian censors

Dostoevsky on Russian censors

Links I liked, 6/8/2015 – 6/14/2015 (Red Cross, Hillsdale, Adoption Laws)

1. How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars For Haiti and Built 6 Homes

Hold your charities accountable!  And know that the biggest and most mentioned are often not the best.

2. What Makes a Woman?

Fascinating article from a left-wing professor in the New York Times who is seriously upset by what the transgender movement is doing to our conception of womanhood.  To quickly summarize her position, essentially she argues that “what makes a woman a woman” is the process of growing up as and living as a woman, both in what that entails biologically and what results from cultural expectations. Ergo someone like Jenner, who has not lived that life, cannot just pop some pills and have some surgery and voila, he’s a woman with just as much a right to speak into feminine issues as someone like this author.  (She’s also rather ticked that Jenner proved his feminine credentials by effectively adopting every stereotype about women on the market.) Fascinating reading, especially coming from someone on the left.

Women’s colleges are contorting themselves into knots to accommodate female students who consider themselves men, but usually not men who are living as women. Now these institutions, whose core mission is to cultivate female leaders, have student government and dormitory presidents who identify as males.

3. Liberal Arts for Conservative Minds

An interview with the president of Hillsdale College.

One might wonder, given all this, whether Hillsdale manages to attract many Democratic-leaning students. “The college is not really about that. We don’t ask anybody about that,” Mr. Arnn says. “They tend to be conservative, but here’s why: If you’re going to read old books as if they might have an abiding value, already you’ve taken a step away from the Daily Beast.”

4. Tim Hunt: ‘I’ve been hung out to dry. They haven’t even bothered to ask for my side of affairs’

Cue again Kirsten Powers’ comment that have to stop reducing people to their least-popular political opinion – or in this case, bad joke.  Apparently being a Nobel Laureate is no protection from the social media mob.  Sad story.

5. Snyder, Legislature putting Michigan on path of intolerance and regression

The media just doesn’t get religion, case #4,248.  Somehow a bill that allows adoption agencies to follow the dictates of their conscience when operating (especially as regards placing children with single or same-sex parents) is limiting children’s “access to loving and stable forever homes”.  To the contrary, states that lack these conscience protections have seen Catholic and other adoption agencies lose state contracts – fewer people out trying to place kids in a home actually does harm them.  But once again, a government makes just the teeniest, tiniest nod in favor of religious freedom and the media hyperventilates.  And usually MLive is actually pretty decent, as big media outlets go.

And now something pretty.

MSU Children's Garden

From the Michigan State University Children’s Garden.

Links I liked, 6/1/2015 – 6/7/2015 (Russia, Adjunct Faculty, Bald Eagles)

1. Video: Russian SU-24 flies by USS Ross in the Black Sea

On May 30.

2. Lithuania and Poland ask for permanent US military bases to fend off Putin


3. The Rise Of Generic College, USA

Essentially an argument that college administrators prefer adjunct faculty to full-time faculty because that are much more amendable to doing whatever the administration wants.

4. I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me

In 2015, such a complaint would not be delivered in such a fashion. Instead of focusing on the rightness or wrongness (or even acceptability) of the materials we reviewed in class, the complaint would center solely on how my teaching affected the student’s emotional state. As I cannot speak to the emotions of my students, I could not mount a defense about the acceptability of my instruction. And if I responded in any way other than apologizing and changing the materials we reviewed in class, professional consequences would likely follow.

A widely commented upon article this last week, if you somehow missed it.

5. Talons-hooked bald eagles the result of midair showdown

Michigan story with some cool photos!

6. The next wave of “body diversity”: Disabled by choice

The fact that someone sincerely desires something cannot be the full measure of what is good and appropriate.

7. Solar cell sets world record with a stabilized efficiency of 13.6%

If you ever wondered how efficient the most efficient solar cells are… now you know.

Storm Trooper Security

Storm trooper security at the last Lansing Lugnuts game.  (Wait, they won’t stop anyone.)

Links I liked, 5/25/2015 – 5/31/2015 (Lansing skyline, prodigal son, sunscreens)

1. Kirsten Powers: Give the ‘bigot’ bomb a break

Stop reducing people to their least popular political opinion.

2. Mormon leader L. Tom Perry dies at 92, opposed same-sex marriage

Reuters totally did not read Kirsten Powers’ article.

3. Where You Live Changes What You See When You Read The Bible

Fascinating little comparison about how Americans v. Russians remember the parable of the prodigal son.

4. ‘Does MapQuest still exist?’ Yes, it does, and it’s a profitable business.

Also fascinating little article about a service we all (used to) know about.

5. Milky Way commercial: “Sorry about your tattoo.”

What is an old photo of the Lansing skyline doing there a few seconds in?!  (You can tell it’s an old photo because what is now the Accident Fund headquarters on the right still has a smokestack.)

6. Why Americans can’t buy some of the best sunscreens

Why the hold-up? In Europe, sunscreen molecules are considered cosmetic ingredients. In the U.S., they are subject to the same scrutiny as over-the-counter drugs, which go through a more rigorous review process than cosmetics.

7. Jupiter seen from our LCC observatory.

LCC Observatory

Our LCC observatory.

Links I liked, 5/18/2015 – 5/24/2015 (Economics, Superconductivity, Classical Liberalism)

1. EconPop – The Economics of Elysium

Actually I enjoy all these EconPop videos – brought to you by the same guys as that (more famous) Hayek/Keynes rap battle.

2. The Civic Project of American Christianity

An article from February that might be titled, “Did American-style liberalism undermine itself from the beginning?”  Not sure how much I agree with it, and I haven’t read the response pieces yet.  One of the reasons I’m a bit more optimistic than many of these authors when it comes to cries that “Christians are going to be excluded from the public square!” is because I know that the heartbeat of many progressives is “isn’t it so terrible that such and such a people were excluded from such a such a place where they would have thrived?”  Of course you might ask, if they really believe that, then why do we in fact see efforts to exclude Christians from the public square?  I don’t know, I suspect it’s a mix of things – for some people all the talk of inclusion really is just pretense, for others it isn’t but they aren’t leaping to defend people who aren’t like them because, well, humans just don’t do that very naturally.

3. LCC PHYS252 – Magnet levitates over superconducting disk

Hey, a little video from my class last semester.  Some explanation here.

4. Jeweller says he has been bullied, threatened

Lesbian couple discovers the jeweler for their wedding (who happily served them) is a Christian, demands their money back.  Internet outrage mob of course jumps aboard.  What really got me, though, was the claimed that the jeweler, who clearly serves all, was pro-discrimination, while apparently people who pick and choose who to do business with based on religion are not?  Beg pardon?

5. Review: The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War

I read a book.  It was good.

6. In Praise of the Dying Art of Civil Disagreement

I do think, in some quarters, to disagree civilly with someone is taken as a sign that you don’t believe in either the truth, or the importance, of what you’re saying.  And that’s sad.

7. Why religion will dominate the 21st century

It matters because theology has consequences. The post-Enlightenment secular worldview tends to treat religion as nothing more than a private hobby. It rejects out of hand the notion that people’s spiritual beliefs matter in a broader context. When evolution tells us we’re just genes trying to spread, when economists tell us all we do is maximize our self-interest, when psychologists tell us we just want to get laid — we become convinced that humans act on nothing but narrow material desires.

But that’s just not true. As a matter of fact, human beings are spiritual beings first, with a natural orientation toward transcendent realities. More prosaically, to state the obvious, human beings make decisions partly based on how we understand our self-interest, yes, but also based on our worldviews, on our vision of what is true and good and beautiful.

Downed Tree

This downed tree, near Lansing’s Sycamore Creek, brought to you by a beaver.

Links I liked, 5/11/2015 – 5/17/2015 (Russia, Christianity, Cemeteries)

1. Pew: Evangelicals Stay Strong as Christianity Crumbles in America

There have been so many stories taking this poll as their starting point that it was hard to know which to share.  But essentially churches that give in to the surrounding culture on the hot-button issues of the day are dying, and those that aren’t are stable-to-growing.  Also interesting to note that atheists have one of the lowest retention rates of their children – meaning their children are especially likely to convert to another religion.

2. In Detroit, Jewish cemetery survives within GM auto plant

Just an interesting story via Sarah Brodsky about a cemetery entirely enclosed by a GM plant.

3. The “least of these” are not the poor but the Christian baker, photographer, and florist

While the Bible does emphasize care for the poor, they were *not* the subject of Jesus’ comment about “the least of these”.

4. Do Baltimore Schools Need More Money?

There is a graph you see around a lot showing (inflation adjusted) spending per student as a function of time since the 1970s, and test scores as a function of time since the 1970s – the former goes way up, and the latter barely budges.  Why that little fact rarely enters into discussion about education funding I cannot say.  This article does something similar but looks at funding across states and again finds very little correlation between funding and learning.

5. On conservative religious activism, the numbers speak for themselves

Everybody knows churches care more about the politics of sexual morality than they do about poverty – unless, that is, you actually look at how they spend their money.

6. Russia: Twenty Feet from War

We in the West think that using nuclear weapons in almost any environment would be crazy, and a full-scale war with Russia will probably never happen – at least rhetorically, Russia doesn’t seem to share those sentiments.


Our find this year from the East Lansing Art Festival.