Resource Letter PhD-2: Physics Demonstrations expanded version

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Resource Letter PhD-2: Physics Demonstrations

Resource Letter PhD-2: Physics Demonstrations – expanded version

Richard E. Berg

Department of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742


A. Journals

B. Professional web sites and conferences

C. Workshops for Teachers

D. Books and articles primarily regarding formal classroom lecture demonstrations.

E. Inspiration Regarding Teaching with Demonstrations

F. Books of demonstrations primarily for informal and pre-high school use.

G. Demonstration Web Sites

H. Demonstration Videos

I. Physics Computer Simulations
Physics Education Research involving demonstrations and simulations

Before composing the Resource Letter, PhD-2: Physics Demonstrations, I prepared this much larger list, with considerably more detailed annotations. This original list was then reduced down to accommodate the size restrictions of the American Journal of Physics, but the notes were helpful in determining details of the reduction. Because it contains a large amount of material that could not be put in the AJP, I have decided to put this expanded version on the web, so that more interested people could have the benefit of the additional references as well as my more detailed thoughts regarding these materials. I have also included the Table of Contents for convenience in finding information in this larger format.

I have personally reviewed all of the books and web sites in this list. The books selected were (1) those found in my personal library, about 50 titles collected over my approximately 40 year career at the University of Maryland, (2) a large collection that will be found in the University of Maryland Physics Lecture-Demonstration Facility, and (3) all of the books on demonstrations that I could find in the American Association of Physics Teachers store and libraries at the American Center for Physics in their College Park, Maryland, building. In addition, I have included several books that were called to my attention during the AJP review process. I have perused the web sites and used computer programs from the sites that are reviewed, and have given special attention to several of those that I found helpful in my teaching as well as in the Physics is Phun public demonstration programs.

This Resource Letter provides a guide to physics demonstrations, computer simulations of physics demonstrations, and physics education research regarding use and effectiveness of demonstrations and simulations. Articles, books, and materials on the internet are cited for the following: professional journals dealing with demonstrations, web sites of professional organizations, workshops including use of demonstrations and simulations, books dealing with demonstrations in classroom teaching as well as informal settings, web sites for physics demonstrations, videos of physics demonstrations, demonstration simulations, and physics education research regarding use of demonstrations in teaching.


Use of physics demonstrations is important in several major areas: (1) physics classes in college/university and pre-college, (2) demonstration shows and/or programs, (3) hands-on and museum settings, (4) hallway or corridor demonstrations, and (5) home or other informal use. Although there is a substantial overlap in the equipment and materials for these activities, there are significant differences in both the sophistication of the apparatus and the approach toward the demonstrations. This document will attempt to provide some information regarding all of these areas, with emphasis on use of demonstrations in lectures.

During the past fifteen years, web sites have come on line with virtually all the information necessary to construct and teach using almost any demonstration. More recently, using high-quality digital video cameras and computer-based editors, many sites have created large collections of videos showing their demonstrations in use. Another recent development is the availability on the web of a large variety of computer simulations of demonstrations. Physics education research is currently studying these teaching materials and provides us with well documented data on how they may be effectively used. Important related information can be obtained from many University web sites, including sources of equipment and materials, lists of demonstrations used in various classes, and suggested demonstrations for elementary physics classes to guide the less experienced teacher.

  1. Journals

A number of Journals include information regarding physics lecture demonstrations and their use, and several have included (at various times in their history) columns dealing with demonstrations. The American Journal of Physics (AJP) regularly discusses demonstrations, often at a relatively advanced level, while The Physics Teacher (TPT) is aimed at both high school and college education. The Physics Teacher includes papers on demonstrations in every issue, usually at a lower technical level than the AJP. Over the years several columns in these periodicals have been featured dealing largely with demonstrations, sometimes appearing regularly and sometimes appearing irregularly. Many of these columns have been incorporated into book form and published by the AAPT; see the list of demonstration books for additional information.

The indexes for papers in the AJP and TPT, found yearly in the December issues, are organized using the Physics and Astronomy Classification Scheme (PACS). The primary topics of interest here are:

01.50.M Demonstration experiments and apparatus

01.50.P Laboratory experiments and apparatus

01.40.F Research in physics education

02.70 Computational techniques; simulations

The primary journals in which relevant literature will be found are those published by the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Physical Society:

The American Journal of Physics

The Physics Teacher

The Journal of Physics Education Research

Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research

Other journals in which articles of interest may be found include:

Physics Education, a journal published in Great Britain, regularly includes interesting papers on demonstrations and other topics of current interest.

The Journal of Chemistry Education regularly includes articles dealing with demonstrations common to both physics and chemistry.

Journal of College Science Teaching, published by the National Science Teachers Association, includes articles in Education Research having common interest among the sciences.

Journal of the National Science Teachers Association contains mostly articles of more general interest.

The Science Teacher, published by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), deals with high school level science in general, so physics is a smaller component than in the above journals.

The Scientific American including Jearl Walker “Amateur Scientist” columns (also available on CD; see below).

  1. Professional web sites and conferences

Web sites of interest are provided by a variety of professional and commercial concerns. The AAPT web site now has direct web links to virtually all articles in the history of the American Journal of Physics and The Physics Teacher, available to all members of the AAPT.

  1., The American Association of Physics Teachers web site. Access journal archives for the American Journal of Physics, The Physics Teacher, and Physics Education Research. (E,I,A)

  2., The AAPT Announcer and eNNOUNCER, pamphlets for notification of conferences sponsored by the American Association of Physics Teachers and its affiliates. Web site includes published archives. (E,I,A)

  3., Physics Education Research, Conference Proceedings. See list of available proceedings. Some articles from these conferences will be found on various web sites; see section on Physics Education Research. (A)

  4., Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Wiley Online Library. (A)

  1. Workshops for teachers

  1., AAPT New Faculty Workshop. Quoting from the AAPT Workshop announcement: “Since 1996, the American Association of Physics Teachers has sponsored workshops designed to help new faculty at research and four-year institutions understand how to become more effective educators and support their quest to gain tenure.” These workshops, available to tenure track faculty at research an four-year institutions at the nomination of your department chair, cover material that is important in development of teaching techniques for younger faculty. Summaries of the materials covered in the workshops will be found on the web site, including recent developments in Physics Education Research. (A)

  1. “AAPT Summer Meeting Lecture Demonstrations Workshop.” In the two days prior to the Summer Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), the Physics Instructional Resource Association (PIRA) presents a workshop on lecture demonstrations, open to all interested individuals attending the meeting. The workshop generally presents the “PIRA 200,” a collection of 200 of the most important demonstrations used in the teaching of physics. In addition to showing the actual demonstrations as used by the presenters at their institutions, the workshop provides lots of ancillary material for use with the demonstrations as well as information regarding how to obtain or construct your own demonstrations. These workshops are very informational, especially for the beginning teacher or demonstration professional, and are highly recommended. (I)


At the AAPT Summer Meeting, held in a different American city each summer, many workshops are held in the two days preceding the meeting. The range of workshops offered is different each year; generally a group of workshops covering the more important topics to physics high school and/or college teachers, such as modeling, interactive physics lecture demonstrations, or tutorials, may be offered. See the AAPT Conferences web page for details. Workshops are often available at sectional AAPT meetings, but the selection may be more limited. (I)

  1., Modeling Instruction in High School Physics, Physical Science, Chemistry, and Biology, Arizona State University. This is an annual workshop, originally designed and led by Professor Hestenes at ASU for high school teachers. Materials for the workshop have been expanded to include physical science and chemistry, and will include biology beginning in 2011. (I)

  2., Fundamentals of Inquiry: workshops designed to introduce teachers to inquiry. These workshops often include work with demonstrations; some of the materials in the Exploratorium Snackbooks, as well as some materials on the Exploratorium web site, was produced in these workshops. (E)

  1. Books and articles primarily regarding formal classroom lecture demonstrations.

Over the years, the topic of physics demonstrations has attracted a large number of authors. Lamentably, many of the excellent early publications are no longer in print. In listing some of these publications here, I wish to recognize that they are worthy of inclusion in any complete Physics Demonstration Facility library, and hope that they will be considered for re-publication by the AAPT, or at least duplicated inexpensively so that they may be available to more interested people. One notable exception is the classic book by Sutton, published in 1938, which has, with urging and support from the Physics Instructional Resource Association, been reprinted by the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Included in this collection are a number of books with experiments primarily directed toward the student laboratory. Over the years I have used many of these books as both reference materials and models for how to construct and/or present the experiment as a lecture demonstration.

  1. “Resource Letter PhD-1: Physics Demonstrations,” John A. Davis and Bruce G. Eaton, Am. J. Phys. 47, 835-840 (1979). This is the original Resource Letter on Physics Demonstrations. Many of the publications listed in this Resource Letter are still of great current interest, and may be included in the current version. Items that may be less current or unavailable may be left out of the current list, so individuals interested in some of this earlier work should peruse Resource Letter PhD-1 for completeness. (I)

  2. Demonstration Experiments in Physics, Richard Manliffe Sutton (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, MD 20741-3845, 2003). In addition to being an excellent source of physics demonstration ideas, this is one of the earliest and most important English books on physics demonstrations, and remains a classic. The original, sponsored by the American Association of Physics Teachers and published by McGraw-Hill in 1938, was at long last reprinted in 2008 by the AAPT, and is available once again. The textual material is accompanied by a limited number of very helpful drawings and photographs; this book is an excellent source of ideas and inspiration. Over the years I have obtained much inspiration and many excellent ideas from Sutton. I very strongly recommend that every demonstration facility and physics teacher have a copy in their library. (I)

  3. Physics Demonstration Experiments, Volumes 1 and 2, Edited by Harry F. Meiners, sponsored by the American Association of Physics Teachers (The Ronald Press Co. for the AAPT, New York, 1970). This set of two excellent reference books remains a necessity for all physics demonstration libraries. It includes over 1100 demonstrations, with over 2200 photographs and drawings. Much of the equipment for these demonstrations is described in great detail, along with circuits and some machine shop sketches. Although some of the electronics has become outdated, the book remains among the most complete guides to construction of physics demonstrations. I have obtained many useful ideas from Meiners, and have found it immensely helpful for both conceptual and construction ideas. (E,I)

  4. A Demonstration Handbook for Physics, Second Edition, George D. Freier and Frances J. Anderson (American Association of Physics Teachers, Stony Brook, New York, 1971, 1981). This is one of the basic manuals that should be found in every physics demonstration facility library and on every physics teacher’s bookshelf. It contains a large number of demonstrations in outline form, using stick figures and simple drawings to illustrate the principal features of the demonstration. Although the discussions are very brief, one can quickly leaf through the information and easily get lots of good ideas. (E)

  5. Selective Experiments in Physics: General Instructions, Mechanics, Heat, Light, Electricity, Sound, and Nuclear Physics, authored by various combinations of: C. J. Overbeck, R. R. Palmer, R. J. Stephenson, and Marsh W. White, V. E. Eaton, Miles J. Martin, and Ralph S. Minor (Central Scientific Company, Chicago, 1940-1964) This is a collection of almost 300 classic demonstrations using equipment available up through the 1970s from CENCO, consisting of individual sheets that occupy three large binders. Some of this equipment is now unavailable, and some is outdated, but the discussions in much of this work remain both classic and helpful. Each demonstration listed has a discussion of the apparatus and the object of the demonstration; most include drawings and equations at the engineering physics level. (E)

Although it is long out of print, many demonstration descriptions are now available in PDF format on the CENCO web site:

Links to the individual demonstration descriptions are preceded by this introduction:

From the 1940s through the 1970s, Cenco (later known as Central Scientific) published 298 selective science experiments geared to college physics courses. Of course, the firm hoped instructors would purchase Cenco lab equipment to conduct the experiments, but the directions, diagrams, and photographs provided invaluable assistance to any physics instructor.

Topics include Mechanics, Heat, Light, Electricity, Sound, Nuclear Physics, and General Instructions. From the photocopies foreword: Clearly written with diagrams, illustrations and mathematical formulas.

  1. Exploratorium Cookbook, Volume One: A Construction Manual for Exploratorium Exhibits, Raymond Bruman and the Staff of the Exploratorium (The Exporatorium, San Francisco, California, 1991). This book includes instructions for building 82 exhibits related to light and images; vision; sound and hearing; electricity and magnetism; color; mechanics; and patterns. (E)

  2. Exploratorium Cookbook, Volume Two: A Construction Manual for Exploratorium Exhibits, Ron Hipschman and the Staff of the Exploratorium (The Exporatorium, San Francisco, California, 1990). This book includes instructions for building 52 exhibits related to light and images; plant and animal behavior; electricity and magnetism; heat and temperature; the physics of sound; mechanics; exponentials; patterns; and vision. (E)

  3. Exploratorium Cookbook, Volume Three: A Construction Manual for Exploratorium Exhibits, Ron Hipschman and the Staff of the Exploratorium (The Exporatorium, San Francisco, California, 1993). This book includes instructions for building 67 exhibits related to electricity and magnetism; light; sound, speech, and hearing; vision; heat and temperature; mathematics and patterns; mechanics; and neurophysiology. (E)

The above three “cookbooks” describe demonstration experiments that have been constructed and used as hands-on materials at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. I have used these plans to construct demonstrations that are useful both for hands-on activities as well as actual classroom and lecture hall demonstrations. They provide a wealth of excellent practical advice, and are strongly recommended. (E)

  1. The Exploratorium Science Snackbook (Exploratorium Teacher Institute, San Francisco, California, 2011). This book was created as a collection of work of attendees at the Exploratorium Teacher Institute. It contains over 100 science activities of a slightly simpler and less formal nature than the cookbooks, covering many basic areas of physics. This one is particularly good for make-and-take projects and demonstrations that can be made more easily by less experienced teachers with more readily available materials. (E)

  2. HANDS-ON SCIENCE: A Teacher's Guide to Student-Built Experiments and the Exploratorium Science Snackbook: The Exploratorium Science Snackbook: what it is and how you can use it, Paul Doherty (The Exploratorium, San Francisco, California, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996). Several articles on how to use the Exploratorium Snackbook along with some nice examples of “snacks.” Samples of the book contents will be found on the web site: (E)

  3. Exploratorium Snacks. (The Exploratorium, San Francisco, California, 2011). This site is a “book” containing direct links to over 110 “snacks,” each of which includes complete information about their construction and use, along with lots of related comments. For quick information about simple demonstrations, you can’t beat this page: Also given is a link to the page where you can order a hard copy of the book. (E)

  4. Apparatus for Teaching Physics: Reprints of Articles from THE PHYSICS TEACHER April 1963 – December 1971, Committee on Apparatus for Educational Institutions (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, Maryland 1972). This compilation includes almost 300 titled segments, with each segment containing at least one classroom demonstration. Although all of the ideas in the book can be found as articles or notes in Apparatus for Teaching Physics columns in THE PHYSICS TEACHER, the convenience of finding them in a single source with an excellent index is very helpful. Many of the demonstrations have photographs or drawings, and in some cases they are accompanied by letters regarding the demonstrations submitted after publication, detailing some of the issues in the demonstrations and allowing correction of errors. This is a nice book, if you can get it. (E)

  5. A Potpourri of Physics Teaching Ideas, Edited by Donna Berry Conner (The American Association of Physics Teachers Publications Department, 1987). This book contains reprints of articles regarding demonstrations taken from THE PHYSICS TEACHER over the period April 1963 to December 1986. Many physics demonstration topics are included; in addition a large number of other articles describe various aspects of construction and use of demonstrations. The book is a convenient way to have lots of ideas regarding demonstrations and their use readily at hand. (E)

  6. Apparatus for Teaching Physics, Edited by Karl C. Mamola (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, Maryland, 1999). This is a collection of reprints of articles from Apparatus for Teaching Physics columns from THE PHYSICS TEACHER over the period from 1987-1998. This book continues the helpful and convenient tradition of having selected sets of articles on demonstrations such as those contained in this book and the previous two entries. (E)

  7. Interactive Physics Demonstrations, Joe Pizzo (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, Maryland, 2001). This book contains 46 physics demonstration experiments first published in Deck the Halls columns of THE PHYSICS TEACHER from 1972 to 2001. These demonstrations are not only useful for your class, but also as hands-on experiments in the classroom or hallway exhibits. (E)

  8. Physics Demonstration Experiments at William Jewell College, Wallace A. Hilton (William Jewell College, Liberty, Missouri, 1971). During the 1960s and 1970s, Wallace Hilton was one of the great early proponents for high quality physics lecture demonstration and laboratory equipment. He authored many articles in physics journals as well as several books published by William Jewell College regarding his work. I have found the materials that he describes in his publications of the highest quality, and very helpful in the development of University of Maryland Lecture-Demonstration Facility materials. This book includes about 300 demonstrations with lots of photographs and drawings, along with a collection of journal reprints. I strongly recommend this book as well as several others that Professor Hilton produced. (E,I)

  9. Physics Demonstrations: A Sourcebook for Teachers of Physics, Julien Clinton Sprott (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin 53711, 2006). This is an excellent book, with a collection of 85 demonstrations, covering most areas of physics, ideal for use in either the classroom or public programs. Professor Sprott has used these demonstrations as the basis for a series of very successful public programs, The Wonders of Physics, which has run continuously since 1984. The book includes details about the construction of the demonstrations, concise explanations of the ideas that the demonstrations illustrate, information about sources of materials, comments about the possible pitfalls and dangers that may arise during their use, and insight into Professor Sprott’s unique staging and humor. A DVD set showing all of the demonstrations is included with the book, and additional DVDs of all of the Wonders of Physics programs are also available from the University of Wisconsin (See section on demonstration videos.). (E)

  10. The Dick and Rae Physics Demo Notebook, D. Rae Carpenter, Jr. and Richard B. Minnix (DICK and RAE, Inc., Lexington, Virginia, 1993). This is a collection of around 600 demonstrations made popular by Dick and Rae through a long-standing series of summer demonstration workshops held at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. It contains good experiments, good explanations, and clear drawings and photographs, and should be on every demonstrator’s bookshelf. (E)

  11. String and Sticky Tape Experiments, Rodney D. Edge (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, Maryland, 1987). This book contains instructions for construction of physics demonstrations using almost no materials – at least not expensive materials. There is a great deal of charm in actually using common items to illustrate the great concepts of physics. I used this book in teaching a seminar on demonstrations to perspective high school physics teachers, and was very surprised and pleased that how many physics toys and experiments could be clearly demonstrated using these basic materials. Neat book, especially for the high school teacher with little or no equipment budget who needs a quick and inexpensive demonstration on regular occasion. (E)

  12. A Demo A Day: A Year of Physics Demonstrations, Borislaw Bilash II and David P. Maiullo (Flinn Scientific, Inc., Batavia, IL 60510, 2009). This is a very nice, recent contribution to the demonstration profession, aimed at the high school physics teacher who is “a first-year novice, full of enthusiasm and seeking to become the best physics teacher possible,” and who has lots of ambition, but “limited experience in building equipment and performing demonstrations.” As such, the book provides lots of demonstrations, lots of information regarding how they are constructed or otherwise put together, and very helpful hints, unique to each demonstration, regarding use of the demonstration in class. The authors have substantial experience with use of demonstrations; I would recommend this book for any teacher, including those with some experience. (E)

  13. How Things Work, H. Richard Crane (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, Maryland, 1992). This book is a collection of “How Things Work” columns from The Physics Teacher over the period 1983-1991. It includes explanations for over 65 devices from that period that use physics or technology in a neat way, along with suggested experiments using the apparatus being discussed or that illustrate the physics concepts involved. Although it is twenty years old, it contains lots of good ideas for class discussion and for individual homework assignments. (E)

  14. How Things Work, Louis A. Bloomfield (John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, 1997). This is the excellent book written for use in the general education physics course How Things Work by Professor Bloomfield at the University of Virginia. It includes enough topics to keep you busy for a few years; most topics are accompanied by suggestions for classroom demonstrations and other activities for classroom discussion. If you do not offer the class How Things Work at your University, you should consider it, and then develop neat demonstrations to enhance your interest and the excitement of the students. An Instructor’s Manual is available from the publisher. (E)

  15. How Everything Works: Making Physics Out Of the Ordinary, Louis Bloomfield (John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, 2008). This is a 720 page extension – from things to everything - of Bloomfield’s earlier book, How Things Work. It seems to be written as much for more informal physics reading as for physics classes, and it adds a large number of topics. It covers a huge number of topics, with lots of figures and an informal yet very informative approach. This book is an excellent supplement to the previous text. (E)
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