Simulating Science

Frame from 'Force, Mass, and Motion'

Here is a frame from an early 'physics sim'. Created by Frank W. Sinden in the late 60's, this film shows visually the relation between forces and acceleration for 2d motion. It was made in a time when the method for creating such animation was to print a piece of film for each frame of the movie, one at a time. Obviously, this would take a while. Watch the original film here: 'Force, Mass and Motion'

Since those early days, the project of simulating the fundamentals of physics with computer animations has progressed and undergone continual improvements. Our work here represents another step in which students themselves are given the tools to build simulations of physical phenomena, and share them with the world online.

Using elementary javascript, and an awesome library designed for all (p5.js), students with little to no coding experience can dive in and build a physics sim. This activity strengthens their understanding of the material, and produces a piece of content others can use to learn or build off of.

Here's an example. Start the sim by pressing the start button. This sim explores what happens to wave as it moves between mediums. Students often find it challenging to understand what changes about the wave in a new medium: does the frequency, wavelength, or speed change?

Inspection shows that the wavelength and wave-speed can change, while the frequency remains constant, since the wave has to be continuous at the interface. Learn more about this sim on

Together with undergraduate students we've built sims covering a wide range of physics and math topics. More are always on the way. If you're interested in working on these, please get in touch.