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Gravity Waves: The Fast Track to the Best Resources

Margaret Scora, Mhona Russell, James Ball and Roberta Tevlin

The announcement that LIGO has detected gravity waves may have you scrambling to answer your student’s questions. This news connects to many topics in high school physics including waves and vibrations, interference of light, changing models of science and the analysis of data - especially the problem of signal to noise ratios. Many teaching resources have been suggested (listed at the bottom) and these have been examined to select which are the most useful for high school physics teachers. The selected videos are well-scaffolded and paced. They make good use of animations, physical models and analogies and showed a wide diversity in the people interviewed. Demos and activities were selected which require minimal prep time and cost for the teacher and which provide active-learning experiences for the student.

Simulations of the Event

Short Video Explanations

Long Video Explanations
  • LIGO, A Passion for Understanding (2014, 20 minutes)
    A good video to get a sense of the people involved and their excitement. It has a nice Isolating Mirrors Demo at 11:13 that you can let your students explore — rather than passively watching a video.

Detailed But Readable Summary of the Experimental Results

  • Binary Black Hole Demos (5-15 minutes)
    This resource describes two demos and provides online sources for hard to find materials. Coalescing Black Holes uses two tennis balls moving as conical pendulums. They are made to spiral in by a falling mass. If buzzers are placed inside the balls, the sound will be Doppler shifted and produce beats which mimic the LIGO signal. Warping of Spacetime uses two dense spheres rolling on stretchy fabric held taut by a large embroidery hoop. This resource also provides an excellent guide to gravitational waves and LIGO.

Activities Analyzing Signals
  • Hands-On Gravitational Wave Astronomy (75 minutes)
    This is a mathematically challenging activity. It has students measure the amplitude and frequency of the signal at three different times. This data is entered into equations with fractional exponents to determine the masses that produced the signals and their distance from us. It provides student worksheets and a teacher version with answers and extra information.
  • LIGO e-Lab (many hours)
    This might interest teachers of grade 12 Earth Space Science. It is a web-based learning space that provides students with tools and real data to analyse seismic disturbances around LIGO.

Scope of the Search
The following links were examined. If you have suggestions, please email roberta@tevlin.ca
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