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Peer Review

Math And Physics Applets

by Paul Falstad


Overall Numeric Rating:

5 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 4.5 stars
Ease of Use: 5 stars
Reviewed: Jul 08, 2009 by Physics
Overview: This web site contains a broad collection of java applets that provide sophisticated visualizations of topics in physics and math. The topics covered include waves, acoustics, electricity and magnetism, and quantum mechanics. The math applets cover dot products and matrix transformations, as well as differential equations and power series.
Type of Material: Collection of java applets providing complex visualizations
Recommended Uses: In-class demonstrations or tutorials.
Technical Requirements: Java-enabled browser
Identify Major Learning Goals: Visualization and exploration of an array of physical processes, including one and two dimensional oscillations, electric and magnetic fields, and quantum orbitals.
Target Student Population: Upper division undergraduate and graduate students, although some materials are appropriate for introductory courses.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Prior exposure to basic theory covered in the simulations.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: The interactivity of these simulations, the range of advanced topics covered, and the complexity of the physics treated, are noteworthy. Most of the simulations include many pre-defined examples, such as different charge and current distributions in the electricity and magnetism simulations. These simulations can then be modified by the user to explore the physical parameters.

The inclusion of both 2D and 3D visualizations is also a unique positive aspect of this collection.

Concerns: The simulations do not include descriptions of the physics; this must be provided by another source. The algorithms used in the simulations are also not described, although the source code is available.

In general the applets are qualitative in nature and without units.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4.5 stars
Strengths: Graphics are well thought out and do an excellent job representing the physical system. Each simulation allows the user to vary a number of input parameters as well as the view being rendered. Some of the acoustic applets will also render the sound produced by the vibrating system. This flexibility and interactivity of the applets allow them to be used for a wide range of pedagogical activities, including interactive lecture demonstrations, tutorial explorations, and virtual labs.
Concerns: Tutorials or other activities using these simulations will need to be developed by the instructor. Quantitative student activities are not supported. For example, in the vibrations and acoustics simulation, specific modes can be selected and combined, but relative amplitudes either cannot be set or can only be set qualitatively by visual methods (e.g. sliders) and not to specific values.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: Complete explanations of the controls and output are available. These are fairly well organized and easy to understand.
Concerns: Although some controls are obvious in their functions, others require reference to the written documentation to be understood.

Other Issues and Comments: This is an exemplary collection of physics and math simulations.