APS News

PhysicsQuest Excites Middle School Classes

In early April, as part of the celebration of the World Year of Physics, five thousand kits, each containing a teacher’s guide, a treasure map, and material for four experiments, were mailed to middle school teachers across the country. Their classes will be participating in PhysicsQuest, which, legend has it, was devised by Albert Einstein shortly before his death. The winning class will receive an all-expense-paid trip to Princeton, New Jersey to be present on May 21, when Einstein’s treasure will be revealed at a specific time and place.

Discovering what that time and that place are is what PhysicsQuest is all about. The first three experiments pin down the location at which the treasure will appear, and the fourth experiment reveals the time. Students are given a somewhat idealized map of the grounds of the Institute for Advanced Study, where Einstein spent the last 20 years of his career. The first experiment, using a "bubble wand" that enables students to study the shapes of bubbles stretched on a frame, gives them the starting point on the Institute grounds. The second experiment, using a laser and a diffraction grating, will tell the students at what angle (relative to north) they should walk from the starting point on their way to the treasure. The third experiment has them measure the period of a yo-yo (oscillating like a pendulum), thereby determining the pendulum’s length and hence the distance they have to walk to get to the location of the treasure.

The fourth experiment asks the students to study the patterns of iron filings produced by arranging a pair of bar magnets in different configurations. They must match a given pattern to determine the time at which the treasure will appear. The winning class will be selected in a random drawing from all the correct answers received by the April 22 deadline, and will be announced in the June APS News. The July APS News will contain a report on the events at the Institute on May 21 that will bring PhysicsQuest to its dramatic conclusion.

More about PhysicsQuest can be found on the World Year of Physics web site at www.physics2005.org . In particular, there is a link to the web version of the PhysicsQuest video, that is being distributed in CD format along with the kits.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff