Professor David Hanneke

When he’s not using Slinkys, Hanneke’s lab develops quantum control techniques for molecules.

Assistant Professor David Hanneke caps his “Newtonian Synthesis” physics course with a design-your-own adventure project. The aim: for students to experiment with physical laws in action. In groups, first-years and sophomores came up with tests to analyze motion, calculate translational velocity and study momentum and gravity. Here’s what a few of them did.

Friction Team

Students on the Friction Team, Professor David Hanneke's "Newtonian Synthesis" course.

The friction team measured the pull of a block of wood across sandpaper and silk.

PROJECT: “Spring Constant Determination from the Static Friction Coefficients of Various Surfaces,” by Fedor, Yusrah Kaudeer ’21, Amanda López ’20 and Renan Vianna ’20E

Students measured the pull of a block of wood across sandpaper, silk and other surfaces. Emily Fedor ’20 said she was surprised by how much the project taught her about the mechanics of physics. She thought being a math major would make her better at physics, she said. “I realize that’s like saying being good at calligraphy makes you better at poetry.”

Slinky Team

Students on the Slinky Team, Professor David Hanneke's "Newtonian Synthesis" course.

This Slinky did not walk down stairs, but instead was carefully measured as it sprung down from above.

PROJECT: “The Movement of a Slinky,” by Rilla McKeegan, Navid Rahimi Larki ’21, Ha Woon “Harry” Jung ’20 and Yordi De Leon ’21

In their attempt to analyze the motion of a Slinky as it dropped, the students first had to figure out how to mark sections of the toy spring. They tried colored tape, but that method created gaps in the coils that changed the motion. The team eventually decided on neon spray paint. “It was like we were waiting for paint to dry,” said Rilla McKeegan ’21, explaining the process during the class presentation. “Literally.”

Big G Team

PROJECT: “Calculating G Using a Torsion Balance,” by Matthew Perkins ’21, George Spencer ’20, David Wang ’21 and Calvin Woods ’21

Students worked with a Cavendish balance so delicate that when one group member casually leaned against a countertop, the experiment had to be put on hold for 20 minutes so the apparatus could reset. “I’ve pretty much given them the apparatus, and I’m letting them figure out what to do with it,” said Hanneke. “It’s gravitational force measured on small scales. After doing this experiment, you can see how long a year is, and weigh the sun, and look at how long it takes the moon to go around the Earth, and weigh the Earth.”