APS News

Lighting Up Classrooms: 2008 PhysicsQuest Kits Launched

By Nadia Ramlagan

PhysicsQuest coverBy APS Staff/KGJ

In 1893, Nikola Tesla’s alternating current (AC) lit up the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair. Over two hundred thousand electric light bulbs were illuminated by Tesla’s AC system. It was here that electrical power was first introduced to the general public.

The recently launched 2008 PhysicsQuest kits use colorful comic book style illustrations to accompany four experiments, which unravel the story of Tesla and his quest to beat Thomas Edison’s direct current (DC) for the contract to power the Fair. Middle school students will learn about light, magnetism, and electricity while striving to help Tesla find his missing tools and beat Edison in the “War of the Currents.”

APS provides a free PhysicsQuest experiment kit, which includes instruction manual and all materials, to registered sixth through ninth grade physical science classes, home school groups, science clubs, and after-school programs. This year, over 11,000 kits have been requested.   

“I think the comic book is definitely a highlight of this year’s kit. APS Art Director Kerry G. Johnson did a beautiful job with the drawings, and writing in comic-strip format was a neat challenge,” said Rebecca Thompson-Flagg, Head of APS Public Outreach.

The majority of experiments are designed to highlight the basic relationship between electricity and magnetism. “The experiments are very different from past kits. It was difficult to find simple, cheap, middle-school level experiments dealing with electricity and magnetism. Once we found experiments we liked, the greater challenge was making them consistently give correct results,” said Thompson-Flagg.

Activities include using “disappearing” water gel crystals to probe the principles behind the index of refraction, and “dancing” compasses to show that current creates a magnetic field. A coiled wire and magnet experiment demonstrates that a changing magnetic field can create a current. Finally, students will weave together all the concepts they’ve explored by constructing a magnet- powered pinwheel, to illustrate how current can make a magnet turn.

“Everything from lightning to computers ultimately relies on a few fundamental principles of electricity and magnetism. Students will discover that these principles apply to their everyday lives,” said Chris DiScenza, APS Public Outreach Specialist.

PhysicsQuest is a middle school competition that aims to give students a positive experience with physics, as well as introduce them to physics concepts. The competition consists of four physical science experiments centered on a mystery. Each story-based experiment gives students a clue needed to advance their journey towards solving the mystery. Classes submit their answers online and are entered into a random drawing for prizes.

The program focuses specifically on middle school students because these grades have been identified as the point when many students are in danger of losing interest in math and science. PhysicsQuest 2009 kits will be laser-themed, in conjunction with LaserFest in 2010.  

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Ernie Tretkoff