group Small Group Activity

30 min.

Gravitational Force

Mechanics Gravitational Force Gravitational Potential Energy Derivatives Introductory Physics

Students examine a plastic "surface" graph of the gravitational potential energy of a Earth-satellite system to make connections between gravitational force and gravitational potential energy.

assignment Homework

Potential energy of gas in gravitational field
Potential energy Heat capacity Thermal and Statistical Physics 2020 Consider a column of atoms each of mass \(M\) at temperature \(T\) in a uniform gravitational field \(g\). Find the thermal average potential energy per atom. The thermal average kinetic energy is independent of height. Find the total heat capacity per atom. The total heat capacity is the sum of contributions from the kinetic energy and from the potential energy. Take the zero of the gravitational energy at the bottom \(h=0\) of the column. Integrate from \(h=0\) to \(h=\infty\). You may assume the gas is ideal.

assignment Homework

Potential vs. Potential Energy
Static Fields 2022 (4 years)

In this course, two of the primary examples we will be using are the potential due to gravity and the potential due to an electric charge. Both of these forces vary like \(\frac{1}{r}\), so they will have many, many similarities. Most of the calculations we do for the one case will be true for the other. But there are some extremely important differences:

  1. Find the value of the electrostatic potential energy of a system consisting of a hydrogen nucleus and an electron separated by the Bohr radius. Find the value of the gravitational potential energy of the same two particles at the same radius. Use the same system of units in both cases. Compare and the contrast the two answers.
  2. Find the value of the electrostatic potential due to the nucleus of a hydrogen atom at the Bohr radius. Find the gravitational potential due to the nucleus at the same radius. Use the same system of units in both cases. Compare and contrast the two answers.
  3. Briefly discuss at least one other fundamental difference between electromagnetic and gravitational systems. Hint: Why are we bound to the earth gravitationally, but not electromagnetically?

group Small Group Activity

60 min.

Gravitational Potential Energy

Mechanics Gravitational Potential Energy Zero of Potential Introductory Physics

Students examine a plastic “surface” graph of the gravitational potential energy of an Earth-satellite system to explore the properties of gravitational potential energy for a spherically symmetric system.

face Lecture

5 min.

Central Forces Introduction: Lecture Notes
Central Forces 2022

assignment Homework

Mass-radius relationship for white dwarfs
White dwarf Mass Density Energy Thermal and Statistical Physics 2020

Consider a white dwarf of mass \(M\) and radius \(R\). The dwarf consists of ionized hydrogen, thus a bunch of free electrons and protons, each of which are fermions. Let the electrons be degenerate but nonrelativistic; the protons are nondegenerate.

  1. Show that the order of magnitude of the gravitational self-energy is \(-\frac{GM^2}{R}\), where \(G\) is the gravitational constant. (If the mass density is constant within the sphere of radius \(R\), the exact potential energy is \(-\frac53\frac{GM^2}{R}\)).

  2. Show that the order of magnitude of the kinetic energy of the electrons in the ground state is \begin{align} \frac{\hbar^2N^{\frac53}}{mR^2} \approx \frac{\hbar^2M^{\frac53}}{mM_H^{\frac53}R^2} \end{align} where \(m\) is the mass of an electron and \(M_H\) is the mas of a proton.

  3. Show that if the gravitational and kinetic energies are of the same order of magnitude (as required by the virial theorem of mechanics), \(M^{\frac13}R \approx 10^{20} \text{g}^{\frac13}\text{cm}\).

  4. If the mass is equal to that of the Sun (\(2\times 10^{33}g\)), what is the density of the white dwarf?

  5. It is believed that pulsars are stars composed of a cold degenerate gas of neutrons (i.e. neutron stars). Show that for a neutron star \(M^{\frac13}R \approx 10^{17}\text{g}^{\frac13}\text{cm}\). What is the value of the radius for a neutron star with a mass equal to that of the Sun? Express the result in \(\text{km}\).

groups Whole Class Activity

10 min.

Air Hockey
Central Forces 2022 (2 years)

central forces potential energy classical mechanics

Students observe the motion of a puck tethered to the center of the airtable. Then they plot the potential energy for the puck on their small whiteboards. A class discussion follows based on what students have written on their whiteboards.

group Small Group Activity

30 min.

A glass of water
Energy and Entropy 2021 (2 years)

thermodynamics intensive extensive temperature volume energy entropy

Students generate a list of properties a glass of water might have. The class then discusses and categorizes those properties.

group Small Group Activity

30 min.

de Broglie wavelength after freefall
Contemporary Challenges 2022 (3 years)

de Broglie wavelength gravity

In this activity students combine energy conservation with the relationship between the de Broglie wavelength and momentum to find the wavelength of atoms that have been dropped a given distance.

face Lecture

120 min.

Chemical potential and Gibbs distribution
Thermal and Statistical Physics 2020

chemical potential Gibbs distribution grand canonical ensemble statistical mechanics

These notes from the fifth week of Thermal and Statistical Physics cover the grand canonical ensemble. They include several small group activities.