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Peer Review

MIT Physics 8.02: Magnetostatics

by John Belcher


Overall Rating:

5 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 4 stars
Ease of Use: 5 stars
Reviewed: May 31, 2007 by Physics
Overview: This collection of 35 animations and simulations covers the topic of Magnetostatics. They illustrate the magnetic fields created by moving charges, current distributions, and magnetic forces. Some take the form of Quicktime movies, others are Flash Files and Java Applets. The latter offer some degree of user interactivity. This is part of a collection of similar resources used for a studio–format course on electricity and magnetism taught in the TEAL project at MIT.
Learning Goals: To help students develop conceptual models about magnetic fields, magnetic force, and the connections with electric currents.
Target Student Population: High school, lower and upper division undergraduate courses covering magnetism.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: The pre-requisites vary from item to item. Some will need only basic concepts such as the definitions of magnetic field and current, right hand rules, etc. Others will need more advanced concepts and mathematics.
Type of Material: Simulations and animations
Recommended Uses: These materials can be used for lecture demonstrations and online illustrations for homework assignments. They are also useful for illustrations of laboratory experiments. The related MIT Open Courseware site contains lecture notes, labs, and in–class questions that use these multimedia resources.
Technical Requirements: Quicktime and Flash Plug-ins are needed to view the movies. The simulations require Java™ J2SE v1.4+ JRE

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: These resources provide excellent illustrations of the topics, some of which are very complex physical phenomena. The illustrations are clear and concise, showing important physical properties. The physics displayed is very difficult to illustrate accurately without tools such as these. In the simulations, users can control the physical parameters of the system to explore their impact. The three dimensional nature of these illustrations add to their power for developing conceptual models. The systems simulated are both realistic and complicated, illustrating the power of the combination of physics and computation to predict the behavior of real systems. This moves the class beyond the simple, analytically solvable problems usually covered in introductory classes.
Concerns: Most of the illustrations are qualitative, not giving numeric results. The qualitative behavior of systems is illustrated in detail.

In some cases the level of detail provided may prove somewhat distracting.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4 stars
Strengths: This material can help students build mental models of magnetic fields and their relation to sources, along with the corresponding magnetic forces. This collection and the related MIT Open Courseware (OCW) site contain notes and activities related to these illustrations. The OCW site also includes class questions that can be used in interactive lectures.
Concerns: The items generally provide only qualitative results, so there is no opportunity for numerical measurements.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: These illustrations operate flawlessly. No instructions are necessary to view the videos or operate the simulations. There is a description of each simulation.
Concerns: Some simulations programs have a large (9 MB) codebase. Instructors should be aware of the time necessary to download files of this size for users restricted to dial-up Internet access.