Gas laws: an experiment

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This project models a container filled with gas. The lid of the container (the orange thing) has a detector that records the pressure of the gas, which is essentially a measure of "how often do particles hit the lid?". This is what you measure in your bike's tires.

Slide the "Volume" slider to make the space smaller or larger, the "Number" slider to add more particles, and the "Temperature" slider to raise the temperature. What do you notice? You can click on the X and Y axis labels to change what gets graphed.

Once you think you really understand pressure, can you figure out a way to predict the pressure from the volume, number, and temperature?

Notes and Credits

I am reading a book whose thesis is that you can help people learn abstract concepts by giving them a model they can play with and letting them form their own theories about how it works. To practice what I have learned, I made a Piagetian learning model of something I understand well: the ideal gas law.

I tried to make this model as realistic as possible, with respect to the process of "real science". For example, I leave it up to you to select what to graph, and the parameters to vary. At the same time, the simulation is designed to be imperfect and uncertain. For example, changing the temperature variable doesn't cause an immediate change in average particle speed, and changing the volume too quickly will lead to erroneous measurements because of "wind".

My hypothesis is that this kind of model would force a student to think really hard about what the "gas law" means by forcing him or her to understand the concept of independent and dependent variables. This is actually quite tricky, even for high-schoolers. For example, while everyone learns that pressure and volume are inversely related, doesn't it make sense that when you raise the pressure in a balloon the balloon expands? If number of particles and temperature are inversely related, can you create more particles by lowering the temperature? We talked a great deal about this question in my chemistry class, and maybe this project can help you figure out convincing responses.

Shared: 27 Jul 2016 Modified: 28 Jul 2016
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