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Freshman Looking for a Project

  1. Dec 15, 2011 #1
    So I'm in the first year of my Physics major, having just finished my first class. I'm looking for projects to do at home. I'm not too picky about whether it's an genuine experiment or just a fun project. I just want to do something with my hands that relates to what we're doing in class. I got a book from the library on undergraduate physics experiments, but they were mostly geared toward juniors and seniors, and required equipment I don't have access to. So I'm looking for something interesting, albeit using only the very basics.

    My first class covered the very basics: projectile motion, Newton's Laws, gravitation, conservation of energy and momentum. My next class will introduce rotational motion, harmonic motion, and some basic fluid dynamics and thermodynamics. I'd like to do something that relates to either the class I just finished or the one I'm about to take.

    Broad ideas I had:

    Experiments which either confirm something I learned in class or would allow me to "discover" a new aspect of those concepts. For example, building a pendulum and then measuring its properties to determine what affects its motion and deriving an equation experimentally.

    Projects which demonstrate what I've learned in class, like those carts that shoot a ball as they move, and the ball falls back in. Or the devices that knock a ball sideways and drop one at the same time.

    Or just cool things that use concepts we've gone over. Bonus points if they require some calculation to use or build. Basic example, a trebuchet, which could be aimed using kinematic equations and vector decomposition.

    Also, general bonus points all around if the concept is something that isn't normally covered in freshman physics classes, but closely related. I have a little money to spend, but not a lot. Sorry if this seems like a tall order, but I literally have no idea where to start, so I'm just hoping for a broad brainstorm here. Thanks for any input!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 15, 2011 #2
    Okay, HUGE tip here is to learn how to use computer DAQ systems and electronics. This will take you probably a year or two, but after that you'll be unstoppable.

    Learn to use LabVIEW and Arduinos, and also play around with transducers or even simple measurement devices (ones based on potentiometers, cycle counters, etc).

    ni.com (for labview)
    arduino.cc (for Arduino)
  4. Dec 15, 2011 #3
    Are you going to publish your results in a peer-reviewed journal?

    Maybe learn some programming language, and use it to write a program say dealing with calculating the range of a projectile given an angle or something.
  5. Dec 16, 2011 #4


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    Build a wind powered cart that goes directly downwind faster than the wind. It is just basic mechanics, but counter intuitive, and confusing even to physics teachers.


    Here are the build videos:



  6. Dec 16, 2011 #5
    Eventually I would like to do stuff with Arduinos and electronics and such, but right now I'm looking for something that ties into what we've been doing in class. So, just some basic mechanics, really. Momentum, conservation of energy, that kind of stuff.

    And no, I'm not looking to publish anything. Is there even anything you can do at this level that would be worth publishing?

    A.T., thanks for the wind-cart idea! That's exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for. I'll definitely look into that.
  7. Dec 16, 2011 #6
    If you want to build mechanical things go familiarize yourself with your school's machine shop. Learn to write G-code for CNC mills and lathes, and learn to use Solidworks for CAD and Siemens NX for CAM. Sounds like that's what you're interested in.
  8. Dec 17, 2011 #7


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    Here is an article in MAKE magazine with the build instructions:
    http://www.make-digital.com/make/vol26?pg=58#pg58 [Broken]

    Note that MAKE magazine originally build a crappy version with wrong gearing and concluded that it cannot work, and must be a hoax:

    Then after some guys build a full sized one, the chief editor at MAKE wrote an long article explaining how they got it wrong:

    It qutotes a physics professor saying that it is impossible:
    "Impossible, would violate conservation of momentum and conservation of energy"
    Dr. Paul J. Camp, professor in the physics department at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga

    Here another physics professor:
    "This is the same situation as people trying to make energy from nothing."
    Rhett Allain, Associate Professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana University.

    So don't be surprised if your teacher tells you that it cannot work. If required give him the math:

    Drela, Mark. "Dead-Downwind Faster Than The Wind (DFTTW) Analysis"
    http://www.boatdesign.net/forums/attachments/propulsion/28167d1231128492-ddwfttw-directly-downwind-faster-than-wind-ddw2.pdf [Broken]

    Gaunaa, Mac; Øye, Stig; Mikkelsen, Robert (2009). "Theory and Design of Flow Driven Vehicles Using Rotors for Energy Conversion". Marseille, France: Proceedings EWEC 2009.,

    Bauer, Andrew (1969). "Faster Than The Wind". Marina del Rey, California: First AIAA. Symposium on Sailing.

    And the data on the official directly downwind record ratified by the North American Land Sailing Association:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  9. Jan 8, 2012 #8


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    Here a kid that just build a DDWFTTW cart for a science fair:


    Here an older one by some other kid:

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