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Physics Demonstrations: A Sourcebook for Teachers of Physics

by Julien Clinton Sprott
The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 2006
300 pp., with DVD. Trade, $45.00
ISBN: 0-299-21580-6.

Reviewed by Dr Barry Blundell
Chateau de La Courcelle, 18370 St-Priest-La-Marche, France


This book describes a wide range of physics related demonstrations, many of them rich in educational content and therefore well suited for use in the classroom to support the teaching of basic physics. Others embrace a degree of showmanship and are intended to emphasize the spectacular (the ‘wow factor’) — these are sure to provide great entertainment at popular lectures, open days and similar events.

The level of detail that is provided ensures that someone with a basic knowledge of physics could readily carry out the majority of the demonstrations, although on occasion clarity could be improved by the inclusion of one or more simple diagrams. On the other hand, each demonstration is accompanied by a sound set of references and it is pleasing to see that the author has taken the trouble to draw on and cite various older, classic publications.

The author begins by describing the practical implementation of each demonstration and subsequently considers the underlying physics. On occasion he presents simple theory and calculations that support the experimental observations and from which students beginning to study physics can learn a great deal. Each demonstration is accompanied by one or more photographs, and invaluable details are provided of outlets from which the necessary materials may be obtained. At present these are located exclusively in the U.S.A, but perhaps in subsequent editions it will prove possible to include some overseas suppliers in order to better cater for the non-U.S.A reader.

In line with current practice, each demonstration is accompanied by a description of potential hazards although occasionally I felt that the listing of insignificant hazards detracted from the importance that should be accorded to more significant dangers that are not always mentioned. For example, in demonstrating the Leidenfrost Effect, liquid nitrogen is poured onto the hand. Although a warning is given to avoid ‘cupping’ the hands, no caution is given concerning the rate of pouring, or the need to avoid liquid nitrogen splashing onto more sensitive skin such as the arm or wrist!

The book is accompanied by two DVDs that provide video footage of the author undertaking the demonstrations before a general audience. This material certainly helps to fill in any details that are not clearly understood from the descriptions presented in the book and represents a useful resource.

Without doubt, teachers of basic physics will find demonstrations in this book that will stimulate students of all ages and — most importantly — will augment the learning process.




Updated 1st July 2006

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