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To the elevator!

January 3, 2013

AP Physics C.

Student W: Hey Dr. B. Are we doing a lab today?

Me: Hadn’t really planned on it, but I guess if you guys have a great idea, then that’s cool.

Student T: Ooh! Let’s get scales and measure the speed of the elevator! I’ve always wanted to do that!

Now this is a bright kid, but I knew him well enough to know that he had just been loudly and excitedly wrong in class, but in a totally awesome way. So as a group we spent several minutes sorting out what you would need to do to figure out the speed of the school’s elevator using scales, the idea that had clearly been in his head of just looking at how much you weighed as it moved up was replaced by a slow-motion video iphone ap, some force probes, some ring stands, and a notion of Reimann sums. Science was afoot!

I sent them all off to gather data, wandered around the school a bit hushing them when they got too loud, pointing out units when needed, and we finally gathered up for analysis. Some estimates were way off. “85m/s seems too high…” “.007m/s seems really low…” But in the end most groups nailed down a result just under 1m/s. Which happily jived with our notion of how high the school was and how long it takes to elevate from bottom to top.

Enterprising Student J hopped on the phone to the elevator manufacturer  rattled off the model number and proudly reported that they’re designed for 1m/s. Science!

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