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Maritime Physics Ideas?

  1. Jul 30, 2013 #1
    I teach high school physics and this year I have the opportunity to partner with a local maritime museum. I know that physics and sailing/boating share many obvious connections and was looking for some help putting together a list of 25 or so less ordinary activities that I could do with my students.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 30, 2013 #2
    Use physics to explain why a large ship made of metal can float

    Describe the physics of water waves (may be too advanced)

    Explain how sonar works and why sound travels faster in water than air
  4. Jul 30, 2013 #3

    Magnetic compass
    Inertial navigation
    Radionavigation (old and contemporary)
    Celestial navigation may be a bit too far fetched, but anyway.


    Steam engines.
    Diesel engines.
  5. Jul 30, 2013 #4
    How the combination of wind, sails and keel produce propulsion.......very challenging.
  6. Jul 30, 2013 #5


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    And how sail boats can outrun the wind, using only wind power.
  7. Jul 30, 2013 #6
    They cannot outrun the wind. But they can move faster than the wind.
  8. Jul 30, 2013 #7


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    Why a ship has a horn that enits a low tone rather than a high tone.
    What purpose did lighthouses on coastlines serve in the earlier days of navigation.
    Why do ships travel in knots, and the related historical references to how a ship measured its speed in water.
    What was/is the purpose of a ballast of rock or other heavy material in a ship's hold.
    How did early seafarers navigate at sea using the stars at night and the sun during day.
    Related - why the sextant, compass and accurate timepieces were prized possessions on a ship.
    How did Englishmen become to be known as limeys.( perhaps not physics but you could expand to diet and scurvy as just an interesting topic on what did sailors actually eat at sea ).
    How large is a supertanker and why does it take one several miles to stop or turn.
    Could a power boat ever carry enough fuel to make it across the Atlantic.

    Since it is a museum, I thought you might like to expand upon some of the historical relation between sailing and physics, even if the early sailors did not know they were using basic physical principles out at sea.
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2013
  9. Jul 30, 2013 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    Dont forget the SOFAR channel, the thermocline layer, and the changing speed of sound due to salinity, temperature and pressure.

    And then there's Rogue waves.
  10. Jul 31, 2013 #9
    Thanks for all the responses to date. So far I plan to do activities like:
    Teach projectile motion near the main guns on the cruiser Olympia
  11. Jul 31, 2013 #10
    ...Teach some fluid dynamics (density, displacement, buoyancy, etc...) on the Cruiser Olympia and the submarine Becuna...
    ...Discuss vectors and trig through a unit on navigation using sextants form the bridge of the cruiser Olympia...
    ...Have students row small boats around as part of a unit on momentum...
    ...Build small rubber band powered boats to collect data on velocity and acceleration...
    ...Teach Newton's Laws and Vectors in a unit on sailing and propulsion...
    ...Discuss temp and pressure in the engineering spaces of the cruiser Olympia...
    Some of the suggestions regarding light, waves, and sound seemed like good possible additions.
  12. Jul 31, 2013 #11


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    But 'outrun the wind' I mean: reach a directly downwind point faster than the air (or a free floating balloon). They can do this:
  13. Jul 31, 2013 #12
    There is no doubt that they can reach a point directly downwind faster than the wind does.

    My objection was to the word outrun.
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