Stories from Physics booklet 4 - Waves: Light, sound and other oscillations

Message from the author Waves are a fascinating phenomenon to teach because they occur across a diversity of contexts and over a vast range of scales. However, the abstracted descriptions of waves found in curricula can present challenges for students. This booklet provides an assortment of stories that can help to contextualise waves and spark your students’ interest.

There are stories drawn from the history of physics, including why the distinguished physicist, Blondlot, came to believe in non-existent N-rays and how Tesla accidentally pre-empted Röntgen’s discovery of X-rays. You can read about how Newton fudged his data, why John Scott Russell chased a wave for several miles down a canal and the polarisation navigation system the Vikings probably didn’t use.

You will also find out about contemporary research related to waves. Discover why mussels don’t like radio waves and read about the mysterious signals from space that researchers found were being emitted from their own kitchen. Find out which animal caused a glitch in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) because it wanted some ice.

Finally, the booklet contains some stories that are just great stories. There is Frederick Collins who built a radio receiver using a cat and another using a human brain. You will learn about forbidden colours and maybe experience your own sensitivity to polarised light. Be inspired by the story of the one-handed Estonian lens maker who worked in a bowling alley and whose lens continues to help the Kepler telescope discover exoplanets.


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