Quantum mechanics – the dream stuff is made of

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Quantum mechanics challenges our imagination. It rules the microworld and lays the foundations for interpreting light from the sun, stars and galaxies, and to learn about the universe.

It enables accurate calculations of properties of atoms and molecules and tools for communication, computing and accurate timekeeping. It provides technological possibilities to investigate the strange predictions of quantum mechanics on interactions between light and matter, down to individual photons and particles.

The list of Nobel prizes is full of examples of how quantum mechanics has changed our understanding of the world and provided the basis for technology that we take for granted. It influences our everyday lives in many more ways than we are aware of.

I will join the March for science as a reminder of the interplay between curiosity and technology.

Bubbles

Tredjedag jul

2016 – a year when social media bubbles of misinformation and hate have grown and risen to the surface, as much as to change the world, bringing even more sorrows and worry and exposing a fragility of a civilised society. It is tempting go hiding in our own privileged bubbles, unable to take in more evil madness.

bubbles_93In my own privileged world, I have also seen many examples of social media bubbles full of friendship and support, not only with families and friends, but also bubbles with teachers sharing ideas, materials, joys and concerns in Facebook groups, asking for help and getting supported, with discussions involving teachers from preschool to university. These bubbles provide a glimpse into the very different realities across the school system, but also offering opportunities.

During 2016, our Physics Education Resource Centre has also run two conferences, attempting to bring bubbles of research and practice in closer contact, for physics teaching across the education system, and for science in preschool. I have been in bubbles of roller coaster enthusiasts, e.g. in the Wildfire at Kolmården, and at the Euro Amusement Show, and in bubbles of amusement park teachers – at Liseberg, Gröna Lund and Tivoli gardens, and presenting the project in a bubble of science communicators e.g. at Göteborg International Science Festival , and in clusters of bubbles looking into various aspects of smartphone use in teaching.

Social media can be a power for good and evil. On the eve of a new year, I wish you all bubbles rising for a better world, with more open horizons.

Happy New Year

Shadow communities

During my years as a computational atomic physicist, I sometimes noted that, while atomic theory might not have been strongly visible in the main conference program, there was often a strong shadow community finding each other in parallel sessions (in later years also at poster session), sharing results, challenges, methods, questions, challenges and successes.

In amusement parks, the technicians are often invisble – showing up only when something goes wrong. Technical details about rides are often hard or impossible to find on park www-sites. E.g. the wonderful story about how Gröna Lund got its wild mouse roller coaster can only be read at CoastersAndMore.de. And when technical details sometimes appear, as they did when Kanonen opened at Liseberg in 2005, they run a strong risk of disappearing with the next www update. Again, details can be found at CoastersAndMore.de but not at liseberg.se. (In any case, the next year will also be the last year that Kanonen is running).

TeknikbordDuring the Edutainment Days at Gröna Lund 15-16 September 2016, a total of 9 technicians come out of their hiding, proudly presenting e.g. wheels, chains, brakes, anti-rollback devices, tools, hydraulics and pneumatics, and sensors, but also illustrations of textbook concepts, such as the lever used to lift 700 kg Jetline engine, to the nearly 6000 teenagers who studied physics and technology in the park during these two days.

Also during the recent Euro Amusement Show in Barcelona, the technology aspects were hidden apart from a few exhibits. However I found that the Safety Institute was an occasion to discover a shadow community of people interested in amusement park technology.

Knowing a few academics provided grapevines to links to other groups of amusement park academics with resulting informal discussions about questions of joint interest. Would it be possible to find ways to link to local academic communities in connections with the trade shows? Some noted that IAAPA lacks a suitable membership category for those who are no longer students, but also without direct ties with commercial interests. Would it be possible to make these shadow communities more visible – perhaps through a “bird-of-a-feather” session? Questions for continued discussions in the little network.

Roller coaster realities

I love roller coasters. I love the feeling of forces acting on me and within my whole body, and being able to connect the real physical experience with analysis of measurements, maths, drawings, photos, videos and observations. Still, I found the Virtual reality (VR) coaster to be absolutely amazing, even standing on the ground in the Mack Rides stand at EAS15, when I reflected on the development From VR caves to augmented roller coaster reality. And I was not the only one. The numbers of VR coasters and simulations seems to have exploded between EAS16 and EAS15. In this post, I reflect on a few different realities from the EAS16 in Barcelona.

Virtual reality experiences

During the last afternoon of EAS16, I made a point of trying as many of the 3D virtual coaster experiences as possible, (skipping anything that involved shooting). I think I have to appoint the ride with Dante through Inferno at the RedRaion booth as my favourite among those I tried – a long ride, with many things happening along the way, and I could easily imagine that it would be even more amazing if the simulator chair had been replaced by a small roller coaster.

A close second would be the renewed encounter with the Kolmården Wildfire as a 3D movie experience from MovEmotions, even without the moving seats.

For fun, I also took my phone along in one virtual coasters, to collect accelerometer data using the Physics Toolbox Suite, well aware that a virtual heartline roll would not show up in the data – and the graph is too boring to show.dof

Having come that far in my reflections on the built-in shortcoming of virtual coasters, I discovered the robot-VR, where even the heartline roll would feel real. The queues were long, and I still have slightly queasy memories from Tom Tits science centre close to Stockholm where I rode all 6 programs of the rotor (without VR glasses), followed by a tour in the Rotor – all with a WDSS for data taking.

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Augmented reality

Combining a small real roller coaster with virtual reality opens many new possibilities for story telling – I could well imagine Dante’s Inferno tour being used like that to give a completely amazing experience. In these cases, the real experience is enhanced – augmented by the visual feed through the glasses

In a session Renew and revitalize – it doesn’t always have to be new Peggy Vereld from Bobbejaanland told about the VR addition to convert an existing coaster Revolution to a new scary immersive experience Mount Mara, and how it was received by guests as a truly new experience. For increased flow in the summertime, they were running alternating versions, both with and without the VR glasses.

Artificial realities.

Having read all the Asterix books, I love visiting Parc Asterix, discovering all the little quirky details bringing the 2D images from the book to an inspiring 3D reality.

I also love the way desingers create new environments, mixing authentic historical tools with creative imagination, as e.g. in the Kållerado or Mechanica at Liseberg or the Wildfire at Kolmården.

However, I was really frustrated by a long talk at the EAS16, which was more of a sales pitch about how to make the TeleTubbies into an artifical 3D world, with lots of merchandise to sell. The learning claims related to the program seem to be somewhat dubious, as discussed e.g. in an early analysis: “The fact that children like something, or parents think they do, does not mean that it is educational, or even good for them. Children like candy, too.” Later research investigated whether young children could learn vocabulary from TV, and found little supporting evidence.

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Har Kupers, Vekoma, during the Safety Institute

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Before the opening of the EAS, I took part in the Safety Institute at the PortAventura world. A fascinating day, with quite a lot of enjoyable technical detail. The only disappointment was that I missed out on riding any of the coasters.  I participated following a recommendation by David Eager (who did manage to sneak away to ride the Shambhala). We had the joy during EAS16 to have our second joint paper (Beyond velority and acceleration: jerk, snap and higher derivatives) accepted in the European Journal of Physics (Our first, on Trampolines, was selected as one of the highlights 2015 in Physics Education.)

Economical realities

In a fascinating session Renew and revitalize – it doesn’t always have to be new, Jakob Wahl talked about how Europa Park encouraged people to multiple visits, e.g. by expanding the number of seasons, and thematic weeks and Peggy Verels from Bobbejaanland talked about  the benefits of adding VR to an existing coaster .

In a long afternoon session The Art of Storytelling and Creation, with New and Existing IP Margreet Papamichael started by showing numbers for different parks and brands, showing how parks benefited from Multi-gated resources (where additional gates could, e.g., be another park, a hotel, a water park or a conference center) and indications that entertainment value – price per hours that guests are paying/willing to pay – increased with more “gates”.

Numbers are always fascinating, and I also recall with much joy a talk from EAS15, where Pieter Cornelis demonstrated that it was possible to make quantitative models on return of investments in roller coasters and other rides.

Economic realities also influence educational programs, that come in many different shapes, as discussed in the session on The A to Z of B2B: How to Develop Edutainment Opportunities.

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Physik im Prater

prater_2011Last week, I was in Vienna, invited to talk about Physik im Prater und auf dem Spielplatz at the 70th annual “Fortbildungswoche für Lehrkräfte aus Physik und Chemie”, arranged by “Der Verein zur Förderung des physikalischen und chemischen Unterrichts

I made sure that I arrived to Wien in time to do some research before the presentation, to know which examples would be relevant, take some ride photos, and, of course, collect ride data from the PraterTurm, as complement to the data in the recent paper about Rotating Swings – a Theme with variations.

The walk towards the PraterTurm passes many other rides, starting with the classic Riesenrad, and a few entangled roller coasters. The photo below shows clearly the saw-toothed track part of the “anti-rollback” device, which causes the familiar click-click sound as the roller coaster train ascends the lift hill.uppdrag Continue reading

Fast away the light year passes

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Mercury and Venus were bright in the evening sky during the first week of 2015. This International Year of Light 2015 (Light2015.org) has continued to offer spectacular astronomy events, including aurora displays and a solar eclipse in March; a supermoon lunar Eclipse in September; and Jupiter, Venus and Mars lined up for the December morning skies, and, for Christmas day, a full moon.

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Surely, you don’t expect this to be science?

easVisiting the EAS 2015 trade show in Göteborg last week made me reflect back on Supercomputing ‘95 in San Diego that I visited as part of the Swedish council for high-performance computing. There were large similarities: Byers, vendors and users getting together for a show of spectacularly large and expensive high-tech machines and also watch curiously to see what buyer is talking closely to what seller – although during SC95, the machines were supercomputers, not carousels and roller coasters. Both trade shows featured fast-driving cars or airplanes – the movie and gaming industry have a long tradition of using computing power, although at SC95, the cars or airplanes were likely to be accompanied by a visualization of the flow, e.g. in a numerical windtunnel.

The EAS ice sculpture in the entrance to the opening reception at Liseberg reminded also me of similar sculpture at a Cray party. During that party the guests wore blinking buttons showing the new hypercube T3E architecture – and in the EAS opening reception, the participants wore Liseberg rabbit ears.

Although there are many similarities, there are also differences that can probably be ascribed to the different characters of the relations to their user bases, but also to different relations to science, technology and education.

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