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"Physics of Pinball" curriculum ideas

  1. Nov 5, 2015 #1
    Hey everybody,

    I've been sort of getting into pinball machines lately, and it's gotten me thinking that nearly all of an introductory mechanics class could be taught through the perspective of a pinball machine. Hooke's law for the launcher, acceleration components for the ball rolling down the playing field, torque from the flipper, moment of inertia from the ball itself, gravitational potential energy from the ramps, and... that's all I got so far. Any other ideas? The intro E&M could certainly continue the theme, especially if you use the old electromechanical machines as examples.

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 6, 2015 #2


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    Nice idea. I could imagine a booklet written that illustrates each (electro)mechanical concept by discussing a part of the machine. Maybe it's not the best primary resource for someone learning Newtonian mechanics for the first time, but it can surely be a nice complement and a good source of exercises.

    So, why don't you start writing?
  4. Nov 10, 2015 #3

    Andy Resnick

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    This is a great idea, but even the most simple 'problems' in pinball involve off-axis collisions and ball spin/rotation, so it's not clear (to me) how you can start with the simple stuff (kinematics, point masses, free-fall). The homework should be fun, tho!

    A friend of mine restores old machines, he was telling me about the old em machinery.... amazing stuff.
  5. Jun 14, 2016 #4
    I have an exhibit of demonstration pieces I've built for Maker Faires using used electromechanical (EM) pinball machine parts, and I have an idea to try to come up with a curriculum that could take advantage of them. Instead of a complete course I was thinking more along the lines of a workshop or seminar setting where we could cover a small number of topics and use some of the pieces as a lab or hands on activity at the end. That might make the package more portable and adaptable to different settings (classrooms, libraries, museums, etc.). The technology seems like an ideal teaching medium since everything is visible and tangible. If something is working well it's easy to see and understand how it works and if it has an issue usually the problem can be identified visually.

    Topics that might be covered at some level include:
    - electricity, resistance, heat, power and how they're related
    - current, voltage, transformers and why they're needed
    - electricity and magnetism and how to convert electricity into motion with relays, solenoids and motors.
    - logic equations and how they're used in schematics, switches and pinball machines to define the game's behavior.
    - mechanics of linkages, ratchets, escapements, gears
    - diagnosis and debug techniques using a complete game with issues

    I'm not an educator though and could use some guidance on things like specific topics that would go together, prerequisites, making the class materials compelling, appropriate age groups, whether this needs to be done live or could be done effectively online, etc. Any comments?

    If you're curious you can have a look at the hardware at: << Link Deleted by Mentors >>

    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 15, 2016
  6. Jun 21, 2016 #5
    Students today would know what a pinball machine was??
  7. Jun 25, 2016 #6


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    Hey Bhend449.

    I'd recommend you looking at some numerical physics engines libraries to get an idea of how computer systems model dynamics.

    They aren't simply taking classical mechanics and doing your normal numerical schemes either - they actually involve handling special "cases" so that not only is it computationally accurate, it also doesn't "go crazy" and blow-up in situations where it can (like when things get trapped in certain sorts of corners and so on). Games engines use physics engines and you can find them in other simulation software (for visualization, simulation, engineering and so on).

    That can give you a good idea of how it's done in the computational domain and possibly be used to "simulate" a pin-ball machine if you gave it the right data.
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