# American Journal of Physics

Published by American Association of Physics Teachers

Online ISSN: 0002-9505

Published by American Association of Physics Teachers

Online ISSN: 0002-9505

Publications

Article

We present a simple application of the three-dimensional harmonic oscillator which should provide a very nice particle physics example to be presented in introductory undergraduate quantum mechanics course. The idea is to use the nonrelativistic quark model to calculate the spin-averaged mass levels of the charmonium and bottomonium spectra.

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Article

This Resource Letter provides a guide to the literature about intelligent life beyond the human sphere of exploration. It offers a starting point for professionals and academics interested in participating in the debate about the existence of other technological civilizations or in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). It can also serve as a reference for teaching. This Letter is not intended as an exhaustive bibliography, but several extensive bibliographies have been cited. The letter E after an item indicates elementary, nontechnical material of general interest to persons becoming informed in the field. Intermediate level material, of a somewhat more specialized nature, is indicated by the Letter I. The annotation A indicates advanced, technical material. An asterisk (*) precedes items to be included in an accompanying Reprint Book.

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Article

Photoacoustic (PA) imaging techniques have recently attracted much attention and can be used for noninvasive imaging of biological tissues. Most PA imaging systems in research laboratories use the time domain method with expensive nanosecond pulsed lasers that are not affordable for most educational laboratories. Using an intensity modulated light source to excite PA signals is an alternative technique, known as the frequency domain method, with a much lower cost. In this paper, we describe a simple frequency domain PA system and demonstrate its imaging capability. The system provides opportunities not only to observe PA signals in tissue phantoms, but also to acquire hands-on skills in PA signal detection. It also provides opportunities to explore the underlying mechanisms of the PA effect.

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Article

We describe a simple framework for teaching the principles that underlie the dynamical laws of transport: Fick's law of diffusion, Fourier's law of heat flow, the Newtonian viscosity law, and the mass-action laws of chemical kinetics. In analogy with the way that the maximization of entropy over microstates leads to the Boltzmann distribution and predictions about equilibria, maximizing a quantity that E. T. Jaynes called "caliber" over all the possible microtrajectories leads to these dynamical laws. The principle of maximum caliber also leads to dynamical distribution functions that characterize the relative probabilities of different microtrajectories. A great source of recent interest in statistical dynamics has resulted from a new generation of single-particle and single-molecule experiments that make it possible to observe dynamics one trajectory at a time.

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Article

This Resource Letter provides a guide to the literature on optical tweezers, also known as laser-based, gradient-force optical traps. Journal articles and books are cited for the following main topics: general papers on optical tweezers, trapping instrument design, optical detection methods, optical trapping theory, mechanical measurements, single molecule studies, and sections on biological motors, cellular measurements and additional applications of optical tweezers. (C) 2003 American Association of Physics Teachers.

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Article

After a historical introduction to Poisson's equation in Newtonian gravity, we review its analog for static gravitational fields in Einstein's theory. The source of the potential, which we call the active mass density, comprises not only all possible sources of energy, but also the pressure term 3P/c 2. In the Hamburg seminar on relativity in the 1950s we discussed whether this term due to Fermi pressure in different atomic nuclei could be detected in Cavendish-type experiments. Our reasoning contained an instructive mistake that we are now able to resolve. We conclude that this term should not lead to discrepancies for different materials in a Cavendish-type experiment, although it is important in the early universe and collapsing stellar cores.

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Article

In July 1925 Heisenberg published a paper [Z. Phys. 33, 879-893 (1925)] which ended the period of `the Old Quantum Theory' and ushered in the new era of Quantum Mechanics. This epoch-making paper is generally regarded as being difficult to follow, perhaps partly because Heisenberg provided few clues as to how he arrived at the results which he reported. Here we give details of calculations of the type which, we suggest, Heisenberg may have performed. We take as a specific example one of the anharmonic oscillator problems considered by Heisenberg, and use our reconstruction of his approach to solve it up to second order in perturbation theory. We emphasize that the results are precisely those obtained in standard quantum mechanics, and suggest that some discussion of the approach - based on the direct computation of transition amplitudes - could usefully be included in undergraduate courses in quantum mechanics. Comment: 24 pages, no figures, Latex, submitted to Am. J. Phys

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Article

The results obtained by Pauli, in his 1926 article on the hydrogen atom, made essential use of the dynamical so(4) symmetry of the bound states. Pauli used this symmetry to compute the perturbed energy levels of an hydrogen atom in a uniform electric field (Stark effect) and in uniform electric and magnetic fields. Although the experimental check of the single Stark effect on the hydrogen atom has been studied experimentally, Pauli's results in mixed fields have been studied only for Rydberg states of rubidium atoms in crossedfields and lithium atoms in parallel fields. Comment: 11 pages, latex file, 2 figures

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Article

The Dirac equation in a 1+1 dimension with the Lorentz scalar potential g|x| is approached. It is claimed that the eigenfunctions are proportional to the parabolic cylinder functions instead Hermite polynomials. Numerical evaluation of the quantization condition does not result in frustration. Comment: Submitted to American Journal of Physics

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Article

In special relativity a gyroscope that is suspended in a torque-free manner will precess as it is moved along a curved path relative to an inertial frame S. We explain this effect, which is known as Thomas precession, by considering a real grid that moves along with the gyroscope, and that by definition is not rotating as observed from its own momentary inertial rest frame. From the basic properties of the Lorentz transformation we deduce how the form and rotation of the grid (and hence the gyroscope) will evolve relative to S. As an intermediate step we consider how the grid would appear if it were not length contracted along the direction of motion. We show that the uncontracted grid obeys a simple law of rotation. This law simplifies the analysis of spin precession compared to more traditional approaches based on Fermi transport. We also consider gyroscope precession relative to an accelerated reference frame and show that there are extra precession effects that can be explained in a way analogous to the Thomas precession. Although fully relativistically correct, the entire analysis is carried out using three-vectors. By using the equivalence principle the formalism can also be applied to static spacetimes in general relativity. As an example, we calculate the precession of a gyroscope orbiting a static black hole. In an addendum the general reasoning is extended to include also rotating reference frames.

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Article

We comment on a recent paper by Hobson, explaining that quantum "fields" are
no more fields than quantum "particles" are particles, so that the replacement
of a particle ontology by an all-field ontology cannot solve the typical
interpretational problems of quantum mechanics.

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Article

Physics Education Research (PER) applies a scientific approach to the
question, "How do our students think about and learn physics?" PER allows us to
explore such intellectually engaging questions as, "What does it mean to
understand something in physics?" and, "What skills and competencies do we want
our students to learn from our physics classes?" To address questions like
these, we need to do more than observe student difficulties and build
curricula. We need a theoretical framework -- a structure for talking about,
making sense of, and modeling how one thinks about, learns, and understands
physics. In this paper, I outline some aspects of the Resources Framework, a
structure that some of us are using to create a phenomenology of physics
learning that ties closely to modern developments in neuroscience, psychology,
and linguistics. As an example of how this framework gives new insights, I
discuss epistemological framing -- the role of students' perceptions of the
nature of the knowledge they are learning and what knowledge is appropriate to
bring to bear on a given task. I discuss how this foothold idea fits into our
theoretical framework, show some classroom data on how it plays out in the
classroom, and give some examples of how my awareness of the resources
framework influences my approach to teaching.

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Article

Physicists seeking to understand complex biological systems often find it
rewarding to create simple "toy models" that reproduce system behavior. Here a
toy model is used to understand a puzzling phenomenon from the sport of track
and field. Races are almost always won, and records set, in 400 m and 800 m
running events by people who run the first half of the race faster than the
second half, which is not true of shorter races, nor of longer. There is
general agreement that performance in the 400 m and 800 m is limited somehow by
the amount of anaerobic metabolism that can be tolerated in the working muscles
in the legs. A toy model of anaerobic metabolism is presented, from which an
optimal pacing strategy is analytically calculated via the Euler-Lagrange
equation. This optimal strategy is then modified to account for the fact that
the runner starts the race from rest; this modification is shown to result in
the best possible outcome by use of an elementary variational technique that
supplements what is found in undergraduate textbooks. The toy model reproduces
the pacing strategies of elite 400 m and 800 m runners better than existing
models do. The toy model also gives some insight into training strategies that
improve performance.

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Article

We answer to question Nr. 55 [Are there pictorial examples that distinguish covariant and contravariant vectors ?] posed by D. Neuenschwander, Am. J. Phys. 65 (1), 11 (1997) Comment: 3 pages, LaTeX, 2 figures, Am. J. Phys. in print

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Article

Electromagnetic fields of an accelerated charge are derived from the first
principles using Coulomb's law and the relativistic transformations. The
electric and magnetic fields are derived first for an instantaneous rest frame
of the accelerated charge, without making explicit use of Gauss's law, an
approach different from that available in the literature. Thereafter we
calculate the electromagnetic fields for an accelerated charge having a
non-relativistic motion. The expressions for these fields, supposedly accurate
only to a first order in velocity $\beta$, surprisingly yield all terms exactly
for the acceleration fields, only missing a factor $1-\beta^2$ in the velocity
fields. The derivation explicitly shows the genesis of various terms in the
field expressions, when expressed with respect to the time retarded position of
the charge. A straightforward transformation from the instantaneous rest frame,
using relativistic Doppler factors, yields expressions of the electromagnetic
fields for the charge moving with an arbitrary velocity. The field expressions
are derived without using Li\'{e}nard-Wiechert potentials, thereby avoiding
evaluation of any spatial or temporal derivatives of these potentials at the
retarded time.

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Article

We investigate the effects of the aberration of light for a uniformly accelerating observer. The observer we consider is initially at rest with respect to a luminous spherical object--a star, say--and then starts to move away with constant acceleration. The main results we derive are the following: (i) The observer always sees an initial increase of the apparent size of the object; (ii) The apparent size of the object approaches a non-zero value as the proper time of the observer goes to infinity. (iii) There exists a critical value of the acceleration such that the apparent size of the object is always increasing when the acceleration is super-critical. We show that, while (i) is a purely non-relativistic effect, (ii) and (iii) are effects of the relativistic aberration of light and are intimately connected with the Lorentzian geometry of Minkowksi spacetime. Finally, the examples we present illustrate that, while more or less negligible in everyday life, the three effects can be significant in the context of space-flight. Comment: 7 figures; subject: special relativity; pedagogical article; replaced to match version appearing in Am. J. Phys

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Article

Quantum mechanics predicts an exponentially small probability that a particle
with energy greater than the height of a potential barrier will nevertheless
reflect from the barrier in violation of classical expectations. This process
can be regarded as tunneling in momentum space, leading to a simple derivation
of the reflection probability.

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Article

It is widely believed that classical electromagnetism is either unphysical or
inconsistent, owing to pathological behaviour when self-force and radiation
reaction are non-negligible. We argue that there is no inconsistency as long as
it is recognized that certain types of charge distribution are simply
impossible, such as, for example, a point particle with finite charge and
finite inertia. This is owing to the fact that negative inertial mass is an
unphysical concept in classical physics. It remains useful to obtain an
equation of motion for small charged objects that describes their motion to
good approximation without requiring knowledge of the charge distribution
within the object. We give a simple method to achieve this, leading to a
reduced-order form of the Abraham-Lorentz-Dirac equation, essentially as
proposed by Eliezer, Landau and Lifshitz.

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Article

We compare the behavior of propagating and evanescent light waves in absorbing media with that of electrons in the presence of inelastic scattering. The imaginary part of the dielectric constant results primarily in an exponential decay of a propagating wave, but a phase shift for an evanescent wave. We then describe how the scattering of quantum particles out of a particular coherent channel can be modeled by introducing an imaginary part to the potential in analogy with the optical case. The imaginary part of the potential causes additional scattering which can dominate and actually prevent absorption of the wave for large enough values of the imaginary part. We also discuss the problem of maximizing the absorption of a wave and point out that the existence of a bound state greatly aids absorption. We illustrate this point by considering the absorption of light at the surface of a metal. Comment: Brief Review, to appear in the American Journal of Physics, http://www.kzoo.edu/ajp/

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Article

We present a simple method to determine the mutual inductance $M$ between two coils in a coupled AC circuit by using a digital dual-phase lock-in amplifier. The frequency dependence of the real and imaginary parts is measured as the coupling constant is changed. The mutual inductance $M$ decreases as the distance $d$ between the centers of coils is increased. We show that the coupling constant is proportional to $d^{-n}$ with an exponent $n$ ($\approx$ 3). This coupling is similar to that of two magnetic moments coupled through a dipole-dipole interaction.

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Article

We consider a primary model of ac-driven Brownian motors, i.e., a classical particle placed in a spatial-time periodic potential and coupled to a heat bath. The effects of fluctuations and dissipations are studied by a time-dependent Fokker-Planck equation. The approach allows us to map the original stochastic problem onto a system of ordinary linear algebraic equations. The solution of the system provides complete information about ratchet transport, avoiding such disadvantages of direct stochastic calculations as long transients and large statistical fluctuations. The Fokker-Planck approach to dynamical ratchets is instructive and opens the space for further generalizations.

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Article

We address some questions related to radiation and energy conservation in
classical electromagnetism. We first treat the well-known problem of energy
accounting during radiation from a uniformly accelerating particle. We present
the problem in the form of a paradox, and then answer it using a modern
treatment of radiation reaction and self-force, as it appears in the expression
due to Eliezer and Ford and O'Connell. We clarify the influence of the Schott
force and the total radiated power, which differs from Larmor's formula.
Finally, we present a simple and highly visual argument which enables one to
track the radiated energy without the need to appeal to the far field in the
distant future (the 'wave zone').

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Article

The Schr\"{o}dinger equation of a charged particle in a uniform electric
field can be specified in either a time-independent or a time-dependent gauge.
The wave-function solutions in these two gauges are related by a phase-factor
reflecting the gauge symmetry of the problem. In this article we show that the
effect of such a gauge transformation connecting the two wave-functions can be
mimicked by the effect of two successive extended Galilean transformations
connecting the two wave-function. An extended Galilean transformation connects
two reference frames out of which one is accelerating with respect to the
other.

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Article

A detector undergoing uniform acceleration $a$ in a vacuum field responds just as though it were immersed in thermal radiation of temperature $T=\hbar a/2\pi k c$. A simple, intuitive derivation of this result is given for the case of a scalar field in one spatial dimension. The approach is then extended to treat the case where the field seen by the accelerated observer is a spin-1/2 Dirac field. Comment: 11 pages, no figures, (written in REVTEX4). Submitted to Am. J. Phys, 26Jan04. - Accepted Am.J.Phys (to appear Nov 2004). 15 pages, fixed confusing typo in Eq.(8), expanded references citng related previous works, discussion of parameter domain of integrals used, and relationship of Minkowski to Rindler vacuum

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Article

We show, by exploring some elementary consequences of the covariance of Maxwell's equations under general coordinate transformations, that, despite inertial observers can indeed detect electromagnetic radiation emitted from a uniformly accelerated charge, comoving observers will see only a static electric field. This simple analysis can help understanding one of the most celebrated paradoxes of last century.

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Article

The relationship between uniformly accelerated reference frames in flat
spacetime and the uniform gravitational field is examined in a relativistic
context. It is shown that, contrary to previous statements in the pages of this
journal, equivalence does not break down in this context. No restrictions to
Newtonian approximations or small enclosures are necessary.

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Article

We consider a clock 'paradox' framework where an observer leaves an inertial frame, is accelerated and after an arbitrary trip comes back. We discuss a simple equation that gives, in the 1+1 dimensional case, an explicit relation between the time elapsed on the inertial frame and the acceleration measured by the accelerating observer during the trip. A non-closed trip with respect to an inertial frame appears closed with respect to another suitable inertial frame. Using this observation we define the differential aging as a function of proper time and show that it is non-decreasing. The reconstruction problem of special relativity is also discussed showing that its, at least numerical, solution would allow the construction of an 'inertial clock'.

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Article

We show that a well known method for measuring the coefficient of restitution of a bouncing ball can also be used to obtain the gravitational acceleration.

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Article

The mobile acceleration sensor has been used to in Physics experiments on
free and damped oscillations. Results for the period, frequency, spring
constant and damping constant match very well to measurements obtained by other
methods. The Accelerometer Monitor application for Android has been used to get
the outputs of the sensor. Perspectives for the Physics laboratory have also
been discussed.

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Article

A simple approximation formula is derived here for the dependence of the period of a simple pendulum on amplitude that only requires a pocket calculator and furnishes an error of less than 0.25% with respect to the exact period. It is shown that this formula describes the increase of the pendulum period with amplitude better than other simple formulas found in literature. A good agreement with experimental data for a low air-resistance pendulum is also verified and it suggests, together with the current availability/precision of timers and detectors, that the proposed formula is useful for extending the pendulum experiment beyond the usual small-angle oscillations. Comment: 15 pages and 4 figures. to appear in American Journal of Physics

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Article

As the universe expands astronomical observables such as brightness and
angular size on the sky change in ways that differ from our simple Cartesian
expectation. We show how observed quantities depend on the expansion of space
and demonstrate how to calculate such quantities using the Friedmann equations.
The general solution to the Friedmann equations requires a numerical solution
which is easily coded in any computing language (including EXCEL). We use these
numerical calculations in four student projects that help to build their
understanding of high-redshift phenomena and cosmology. Instructions for these
projects are available as supplementary materials.

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Article

According to the Special Theory of Relativity, a rotating magnetic dielectric cylinder in an axial magnetic field should exhibit a contribution to the radial electric potential that is associated with the motion of the material's magnetic dipoles. In 1913 Wilson and Wilson reported a measurement of the potential difference across a magnetic dielectric constructed from wax and steel balls. Their measurement has long been regarded as a verification of this prediction. In 1995 Pelligrini and Swift questioned the theoretical basis of experiment. In particular, they pointed out that it is not obvious that a rotating medium may be treated as if each point in the medium is locally inertial. They calculated the effect in the rotating frame and predicted a potential different from both Wilson's theory and experiment. Subsequent analysis of the experiment suggests that Wilson's experiment does not distinguish between the two predictions due to the fact that their composite steel-wax cylinder is conductive in the regions of magnetization. We report measurements of the radial voltage difference across various rotating dielectric cylinders, including a homogeneous magnetic material (YIG), to unambiguously test the competing calculations. Our results are compatible with the traditional treatment of the effect using a co-moving locally inertial reference frame, and are incompatible with the predictions based on the model of Pelligrini and Swift. Comment: 22 pages, 5 figures; to be published in the American Journal of Physics

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Article

An experiment investigating the angle of Cerenkov light emitted by 3-MeV electrons traversing an acrylic detector has been developed for use in the advanced physics laboratory course at the University of Rochester. In addition to exploring the experimental phenomena of Cerenkov radiation and total internal reflection, the experiment introduces students to several experimental techniques used in actual high energy and nuclear physics experiments, as well as to analysis techniques involving Poisson statistics. [to be published in Am. J. Phys. 67 (Oct/Nov 1999).]

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Article

The experimental observation of effects due to Berry's phase in quantum systems is certainly one of the most impressive demonstrations of the correctness of the superposition principle in quantum mechanics. Since Berry's original paper in 1984, the spin 1/2 coupled with rotating external magnetic field has been one of the most studied models where those phases appear. We also consider a special case of this soluble model. A detailed analysis of the coupled differential equations and comparison with exact results teach us why the usual procedure (of neglecting nondiagonal terms) is mathematically sound. Comment: 9 pages

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Article

It is shown that the ideal gas adiabatic relation, P*V^gamma=constant, can be derived by considering the motion of a particle bouncing elastically between a stationary wall and a moving wall. Comment: To be published in American Journal of Physics, 12 pages, 3 figures

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Article

We analyze a very simple variant of the Lorentz pendulum, in which the length
is varied exponentially, instead of uniformly, as it is assumed in the standard
case. We establish quantitative criteria for the condition of adiabatic changes
in both pendula and put in evidence their substantially different physical
behavior with regard to adiabatic invariance.

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Article

We show that a noncyclic phase of geometric origin has to be included in the approximate adiabatic wave function. The adiabatic noncyclic geometric phase for systems exhibiting a conical intersection as well as for an Aharonov-Bohm situation is worked out in detail. A spin-1/2 experiment to measure the adiabatic noncyclic geometric phase is discussed. We also analyze some misconceptions in the literature and textbooks concerning noncyclic geometric phases. Comment: Minor stylistic changes in text and Fig. 3. Forthcoming in American Journal of Physics (March 98)

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Article

The thermodynamics of the adiabatic expansion of a mixture of two phases capable of interchanging heat and matter across the phase boundary is presented. The law of conservation of energy is applied to each phase considered as an open system and to the mixture of phases considered as a closed system. Expressions for the entropy production resulting from internal irreversible processes demonstrate the difference between adiabatic and isentropic changes and specify conditions under which the expansion of a closed two-phase system is isentropic. Three such possible isentropic processes are defined, and expressions are derived for the temperature-pressure-volume states achieved in them. The thermodynamic treatment is useful in studies of the adiabatic release of a shock-induced mixture of phases.

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Article

For the example of the infinite well potential, we point out some paradoxes which are solved by a careful analysis of what is a truly self-adjoint operator. We then describe the self-adjoint extensions and their spectra for the momentum and the Hamiltonian operators in different settings. Additional physical requirements such as parity, time reversal, and positivity are used to restrict the large class of self-adjoint extensions of the Hamiltonian. (C) 2001 American Association of Physics Teachers.

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Article

A method to create instructive, nonuniform aperture functions using spatial
frequency filtering is described. The diffraction from a single slit in the
Fresnel limit and the interference from a double slit in the Fraunhofer limit
are spatially filtered to create electric field distributions across an
aperture to produce apodization, inverse apodization or super-resolution, and
apertures with phase shifts across their widths. The diffraction effects from
these aperture functions are measured and calculated. The excellent agreement
between the experimental results and the calculated results makes the
experiment ideal for use in an advanced undergraduate or graduate optics
laboratory to illustrate experimentally several effects in Fourier optics.

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Article

A thoughtful approach to designing and improving labs, particularly at the
advanced level, is critical for the effective preparation of physics majors for
professional work in industry or graduate school. With that in mind, physics
education researchers in partnership with the physics faculty at the University
of Colorado Boulder have overhauled the senior-level Advanced Physics Lab
course. The transformation followed a three part process of establishing
learning goals, designing curricula that align with the goals, and assessment.
Similar efforts have been carried out in physics lecture courses at the
University of Colorado Boulder, but this is the first systematic research-based
revision of one of our laboratory courses. The outcomes of this effort include
a set of learning goals, a suite of new lab-skill activities and transformed
optics labs, and a set of assessments specifically tailored for a laboratory
environment. While the particular selection of advanced lab experiments varies
widely between institutions, the overall transformation process, the learning
goals, and the assessments are broadly applicable to the instructional lab
community.

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Article

We investigate whether storing baseballs in a controlled humidity environment significantly affects their aerodynamic properties. To do this, we measure the change in diameter and mass of baseballs as a function of relative humidity (RH) in which the balls are stored. We then model trajectories for pitched and batted baseballs to assess the difference between those stored at 30% RH versus 50% RH. The results show that a drier baseball may be expected to curve slightly more than a humidified one for a given pitch velocity. We also find that the aerodynamics alone would add ~2 feet to the distance a moister ball is hit. However, this is compensated by a ~6 foot reduction in batted distance due to the well known change in coefficient of restitution of the ball. We discuss consequences of these results for baseball played at Coors Field in Denver, where baseballs have been stored in a humidor at 50% RH since 2002. Comment: 21 pages, 7 figures, modified and re-posted 2/29

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Article

We describe a simple realization of Fizeau's "aether-drag" experiment. Using
an inexpensive setup, we measure the phase shift induced by moving water in a
laser interferometer and find good agreement with the relativistic prediction
or, in the terms of nineteenth century physics, with Fresnel's partial-drag
theory. This appealing experiment, particularly suited for an undergraduate
laboratory project, not only allows a quantitative measurement of a
relativistic effect on a macroscopic system, but also constitutes a practical
application of important concepts of optics, data acquisition and processing,
and fluid mechanics.

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Article

Symbolic calculators like Mathematica are becoming more commonplace among upper level physics students. The presence of such a powerful calculator can couple strongly to the type of mathematical reasoning students employ. It does not merely offer a convenient way to perform the computations students would have otherwise wanted to do by hand. This paper presents examples from the work of upper level physics majors where Mathematica plays an active role in focusing and sustaining their thought around calculation. These students still engage in powerful mathematical reasoning while they calculate but struggle because of the narrowed breadth of their thinking. Their reasoning is drawn into local attractors where they look to calculation schemes to resolve questions instead of, for example, mapping the mathematics to the physical system at hand. We model the influence of Mathematica as an integral part of the constant feedback that occurs in how students frame, and hence focus, their work.

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Article

Intriguing phenomena such as subrecoil laser cooling of atoms, or aging phenomenon in glasses, have in common that the systems considered do not reach a steady-state during the experiments, although the experimental time scales are very large compared to the microscopic ones. We revisit some standard models describing these phenomena, and reformulate them in a unified framework in terms of lifetimes of the microscopic states of the system. A universal dynamical mechanism emerges, leading to a generic time-dependent distribution of lifetimes, independently of the physical situation considered.

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Article

It is well-known that the electric and magnetic Aharonov-Bohm effects may be formally described on equal footing using the four-vector potential in a relativistic framework. We propose an illustrative manifestation of both effects in a single configuration, in which the specific path of the charged particle determines the weight of the electric and magnetic acquired relative phases. The phases can be distinctively obtained in the Coulomb gauge. The scheme manifests the pedagogical lesson that though each of the relative phases is gauge-dependent their sum is gauge-invariant. Comment: 6 figures

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Article

The use of compressed air cannons in an undergraduate lab provides a way to
illustrate the cooperation of diverse physics concepts, such as conservation of
momentum, the work-kinetic energy theorem, expansion of gas, air drag, and
elementary Newtonian mechanics. However, recent proposals have disagreed as to
whether the expansion of the gas in the cannon should be modeled as an
adiabatic or an isothermal process. We built an air cannon that utilized a
diaphragm valve to release our pressurized gas and found that neither model
accurately predicted the exit velocity of our projectile. We present a new
model, based on the flow of air through the valve, that is in much better
agreement with our data.

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Article

We study the thermodynamics of the water rocket in the thrust phase, taking
into account the expansion of the air with water vapor, vapor condensation and
the energy taken from the environment. We set up a simple experimental device
with a stationary bottle and verified that the gas expansion in the bottle is
well approximated by a polytropic process $PV^\beta$= constant, where the
parameter $\beta$ depends on the initial conditions. We find an analytical
expression for $\beta $ that only depends on the thermodynamic initial
conditions and is in good agreement with the experimental results.

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Article

We present an update of the "refractive index of air" experiment commonly used in optics and undergraduate advanced labs. The refractive index of air is based on the average molecular polarizability, which we measured from the period of the phase shift in a Michelson interferometer as a function of pressure. Our value of the average molecular polarizability of air is \gamma_mol = 2.133 \pm 0.032 \times 10^{-29} m^3 (95% CI) and from this we find the refractive index of air at atmospheric pressure to be n = 1.0002651(66), which is in agreement with the accepted value of n=1.000271375(6).

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Article

I present and discuss a model for the free-for-all passenger boarding which is employed by some discount air carriers. The model is based on the principles of statistical mechanics where each seat in the aircraft has an associated energy which reflects the preferences of the population of air travelers. As each passenger enters the airplane they select their seats using Boltzmann statistics, proceed to that location, load their luggage, sit down, and the partition function seen by remaining passengers is modified to reflect this fact. I discuss the various model parameters and make qualitative comparisons of this passenger boarding model with models which involve assigned seats. This model can also be used to predict the probability that certain seats will be occupied at different times during the boarding process. These results may be of value to industry professionals as a useful description of this boarding method. However, it also has significant value as a pedagogical tool since it is a relatively unusual application of undergraduate level physics and it describes a situation with which many students and faculty may be familiar.

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