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The availability of inexpensive Doppler radar has made it practical to accurately measure drag coefficients in undergrad physics labs.

ABSTRACT

Undergraduate lab design balances several factors: 1) simple experiments connected with learning objectives, 2) experiments sufficiently accurate for comparisons between theory and measurements without gaps when students ascribe discrepancies to confounding factors (imperfect simplifying assumptions, measurement uncertainties, and “human error”), and 3) experiments capturing student attention to ensure due diligence in execution and analysis. Drag coefficient measurements are a particular challenge, though there has been some success using accurate measurements of terminal velocities. Video shows promise in several areas of kinematics, but the number of trials in a reasonable time is limited, and analysis techniques to determine drag coefficients often include numerical integration of differential equations. Here we demonstrate a technique with potential to measure drag coefficients to near 1% accuracy using an affordable 2.4 GHz Doppler radar system and round plastic pellets from an Airsoft launcher.