Physics with Phones

The sensors that are part of almost every mobile phone provide a great opportunity to improve students’ experiences with physics. Making measurements with high-quality sensors enables them to engage in science and engineering practices as they learn core disciplinary ideas. 

Physics with Phones is a series of presentations outlining a wide range of experiments that are well-aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. These were being developed for the classroom, but many can be done by students in their own homes. Some have been successfully piloted in high school physics classes. Click on the titles below to download the presentations.

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hand holding phone

Smartphones are a powerful educational tool and a low-cost complement to traditional physics teaching methods to reinforce students’ interest in learning. By making physics experiments more engaging with built-in phone sensors, students can quickly attach real-world experiences to abstract concepts.

Space X Launch

The velocity of objects often changes over time which we refer to as acceleration.  Learn how to measure acceleration as you move your body and how to use your phone to determine the acceleration due to Earth’s gravitational field. 

runner in motion

Life depends on motion over a wide range of scales, for example, the pulsing of blood through veins and arteries, the movement of people and vehicles from place to place, the migration of wildlife. Use the phone to measure and analyze distance, speed, and acceleration.

two gears moving with pouring oil

The force of friction makes it possible for people to walk and cars to move, but it also causes our machines to wear down, and some of the energy we generate to be wasted as heat. Learn how to measure friction on different kinds of surfaces using your smartphone and understand its physical effects.

photo of a roller coaster's upside down loop

Navigational devices like the GPS system in your phone depend on gyroscopes to analyze the rotational motion of moving objects. Your phone contains a very sensitive gyroscope that determines how it moves along three axes of rotation. Learn how your phone uses this data to figure out how and where you’re moving through space as you carry it.

F35 fighter jet with rotation chart

How something moves through space depends on its mass, shape, velocity, and other factors. Analyzing the flight of a jet or orbit of a satellite requires understanding its moment of inertia. Analyze the moment of inertia of your smartphone in this unit.

Two test dummies crashing into air bags

Objects move and halt when forces are applied. Mass, velocity, and time define the physical quantities of impulse and momentum. Understanding them is crucial to designing safer products like cars, shoes, sports equipment. Engineer shock-absorbing solutions and use the smartphone to measure how well your designs worked.

Image of the moon with craters

Collisions are all around us. Analyzing them can help us understand such phenomena as the flight of a golf ball when it’s hit by a club, or the behavior of the particles that form matter. Learn how to analyze the motion of bouncing balls on flat surfaces using your smartphone.

image of girl swimming under water

The pressure of fluids like air and water regulate many natural processes from those in living organisms to the weather. Changes in pressure drive many industrial, medical, and technological applications from jet engines to building heating and cooling systems. Learn how to measure and understand pressure differences using your smartphone.

graph of harmoic oscillator waves

Understanding waves is fundamental—through them we see, communicate, transmit energy, probe the universe. Experimenting with harmonic oscillators, such as a mass on a spring, is a great way to understand how waves work. Use your phone to make measurements of a simple spring oscillator.

image of a bat tracking its prey with sonar

The spoken word, music, earthquakes, vibrating equipment: the physics of mechanical waves, including sound, govern what we hear, their use in technology, and their effect during such events as earthquakes. In parts 1 and 2, you will use your phone to measure the speed of sound.

jelly fish in the ocean

We see, communicate, manufacture, and explore using the waves on the electromagnetic spectrum, including those in the visible, microwave, radio, and x-ray frequencies. Using your smartphone, you will explore how colors combine, and measure: the absorbance and reflection of light; your pulse using light: and the strength of microwaves that carry Wi-Fi signals.

an image of the Earth and its magnetic fields

Magnetic fields make motors, electrical generators, home appliances, tools, and many other technologies work. The Earth is surrounded and protected by a magnetic field from radiation. Learn how to use the magnetometer in your phone to measure the strength and direction of Earth’s magnetic field, and more.

Image of CPU circuts

In today’s technologically advanced world, scientific measurements are often converted into digital representations to enable processing and storage. You can use built-in sensors in your smartphone to understand the principles of digital measurement science and assess the quality of large data sets.

Physics with Phones in the News