Spinning tubes: An authentic research experience in a three-hour laboratory

Arnold E. Sikkema, Trinity Western University
Steven D. Steenwyk, Calvin University
John W. Zwart, Dordt College


We discuss a three-hour laboratory that is a microcosm of physics research, starting with the discovery of an intriguing phenomenon, and including participation in "research conferences" and the interplay of theory and experiment. Students are given a small segment of PVC pipe marked at opposite ends with different symbols and asked to observe what happens when the pipe is placed on a horizontal surface and one end is pushed downward by a finger to initiate a rotation. Most students immediately recognize that the symbol at one end is visible while the other is not, and set about trying to understand why. Students initially work in pairs and are provided with opportunities to request equipment from a "granting agency" and conferences and collaborations are encouraged. Students are quickly caught up in their search for explanations, usually culminating in a full-class effort with significant contributions coming from all students. © 2010 American Association of Physics Teachers.