NSF Award Abstract - #9950380
Force Field: Using Animation in Teaching Electromagnetism

Latest Amendment Date: July 29, 1999
Award Number: 9950380
Award Instr.: Standard Grant

Prgm Manager:
Duncan E. McBride
DUE Division Of Undergraduate Education
EHR Direct For Education and Human Resources

Start Date: September 1, 1999
Expires: August 31, 2001 (Estimated)
Expected Total Amt. $149,994 (Estimated)

John Belcher jwb@space.mit.edu
Janet H Murray
Markus Zahn

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 021394307 617/253-1000

Fld Applictn 0000099 Other Applications NEC


Classical electromagnetism is a fundamental underpinning of a technical education, but one of the most difficult subjects for students to master. We propose to help address this difficulty by using field line animation to develop the student's intuition about electromagnetic phenomena. Faraday was the first to realize that the shape of electromagnetic field lines is a remarkable guide to their dynamical effects. This becomes especially true when the field lines are animated. The increasing power of 3D animation hardware and software has made the creation of engaging 3D animations feasible. Such 3D animations are visually compelling, instilling in the student both a sense of wonder about the phenomena and a mental model of why and how it "works". Moreover, CPU power has reached the point that we can develop corresponding 2D Java-based animations which are interactive. Both of these approaches to animation can be delivered as part of a textual development in an increasingly seamless manner. The goal is to instill in the student a level of intuition about the subject not possible heretofore. Many of the 3D animations will correspond to actual demonstrations, reproducing their look and feel. The products of this approach will be: video clips of demonstrations; 3D animations of these demonstrations which display time-changing field lines as a guide to understanding their dynamical effects; and Java applets which allow the student to actively construct and animate 2D field lines for varying configurations of sources. This material is aimed at beginning students of electromagnetism, from high school to college freshmen. It can also profitably be used in upper level college courses. This proposal supports the CCLI Educational Materials Development theme at NSF. It also describes a systemic reform of educational pedagogy in electromagnetism across both science and engineering disciplines. Our approach can serve as a model for the reform of such courses, and for the development of distance learning via the Web for co-operative and internship students, as well as for life-long learning.