Guided Tour | Vector Fields | Electrostatics | Magnetostatics | Faraday's Law | Light | Course Notes | Resources
MIT Physics 8.02 - Electricity & Magnetism

Technology Enabled Active Learning

Visualizing Electricity and Magnetism at MIT

We are using visualizations in teaching physics interactively in freshman courses at MIT (classes of 500 students). We combine desktop experiments with visualizations of those experiments to "make the unseen seen". Our pedagogy utilizes the following elements:
  1. Collaborative learning--students work in groups of 3, with 9 students sitting at a round table and discussing electromagnetic phenomena.
  2. Networked laptaps, one for each group of 3, with data acquisition links to desktop experiments that students perform and analyze.
  3. Media-rich software for multimedia visualization, delivered via class laptops and the Web.
  4. Extensive course notes with links to the visualizations.
  5. Assessment showing learning gains a factor of 2 higher than traditional instruction.

A rendering of the TEAL classroom and a photograph of students at work (click to enlarge).

Our visualizations are organized into five categories: Vector Fields, Electrostatics, Magnetostatics, Faraday's Law, and Light. Here we present a selected few from over 100 visualizations ranging in format from passive mpeg animations to interactive Shockwave and Java 3D applets. The main index is available at The content contained herein can be freely used and redistributed for non-profit educational purposes, as long as an acknowledgment is given to the MIT TEAL/Studio Physics Project for such use.


Title: A Van de Graff Generator Repelling a Charge

An animation of the electric fields around a van de Graaff generator as it repels a positive charge. We show both the "moving field lines" and the"dynamic line integral convolution" representation of the electric field. Correlations in the animated texture indicate the direction of the field. Set Windows Media Player to "repeat".

Title: Interactive Molecules 3D

Molecules 3D simulates the interaction of charged particles in three dimensional space. The particles interact via the classical Coulomb force, as well as the repulsive quantum-mechanical Pauli force. In response to these forces, individual particles will first pair off into dipoles and then slowly combine into larger structures over time. Select "Fullscreen Version". Left click and drag to rotate camera. Hold down "Shift" and click on a particle to select it, then use the arrow keys to move it around. Press "f" while a particle is selected to toggle fieldlines on/off around that particle. The fieldlines will show the local direction of the electric field.



Title: Two Wires in Series

An animation of the magnetic field and forces generated by two parallel wires is visualized when the current in the wires run in opposite directions. When the current is turned on, the resulting magnet field pressure between the wires pushes them apart.


Faraday's Law:

Title: The Falling Ring with Finite Resistance

A visualization of the magnetic field configuration that is generated around a conducting non-magnetic ring (e.g. copper) as it falls under gravity in the magnetic field of a fixed permanent magnet. The current in the ring is indicated by the small moving spheres. In this case, the ring has finite resistance and falls past the magnet. Set Windows Media Player to "repeat".

Title: The Falling Coil Applet

An interactive Java 3D applet field shows the field configuration around a non-magnetic ring as it falls under gravity in the field of a fixed magnet. In the initial configuration the coil has no resistance and levitates in the field of the magnet. Hit run and let the ring bounce several times. At the bottom of a bounce hit the "iron filings" box to see a representation of the complete field. Hit run again and increase the resistance to "10" using the slider. Watch the subsequent behavior of the ring.



The Alex and Brit d'Arbeloff Fund for Excellence in MIT Education, MIT iCampus, the Davis Educational Foundation, NSF, the Class of 1960 Endowment for Innovation in Education, the Class of 1951 Fund for Excellence in Education, the Class of 1955 Fund for Excelence in Teaching, and the Helena Foundation.


Pedagogy: John Belcher, Peter Dourmashkin, Sen-ben Liao, David Litster, Norman Derby, Stanislaw Olbert

Assessment: Yehudit Judy Dori

TEAL Visualizations:

Project Manager: Andrew McKinney

Java Simulations: Andrew McKinney, Philip Bailey, Michael Danziger, Mesrob Ohannesian, Pierre Poignant, Ying Cao

3D Illustration/Animation: Mark Bessette, Michael Danziger

Shockwave Visualizations: Michael Danziger

Visualization Techniques R&D: Andreas Sundquist (DLIC), Mesrob Ohannessian (IDRAW)