APS Excellence in Physics Education Award
November 2019

Education Prize Logo
Science SPORE Prize
November 2011

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The Open Source Physics Project is supported by NSF DUE-0442581.


Curriculum Overview

The Open Source Physics site hosts many different types of materials suitable for teaching introductory to advanced physics: Physlet books, Java simulations, packages of Java simulations, source code, worksheets, and books. OSP was initially intended to be a computer code and simulation repository for the teaching of computational physics. Many instructors, however, do not teach (or do research in) computational physics. To serve these instructors, we have also developed a large number of simulations in a ready-to-run, accessible, modifiable, and distributable form for physics teaching. Some simulations are available as compiled Java programs that require the installation of a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) whereas others are JavaScript-based and are delivered as web pages that run on any platform including mobile devices. The OSP site also hosts books, worksheets and other text resources.

The following sections describe some of the Java, JavaScript, and text resources on the OSP site.

Java Simulations and Simulation Packages

Curriculum Overview

The Phase Space in Quantum Mechanics Using the Wigner function package.

A Java application is a program that runs like any other program on a desktop computer if Java is installed and the OSP Collection hosts many Java programs. To run a program, a Java archive (jar file) containing a compiled Java program is first downloaded and placed in a directory on a local computer. Users then double-click on the jar file to execute the program as described on the Simulations Overview Section.

For a complete unit of instruction on a given topic, we can distribute multiple Java simulations in a single jar file. The Launcher and LaunchBuilder programs developed by Doug Brown at Cabrillo College are used to organize and launch (execute) other Java programs within a single jar file. We use them to develop topical packages containing simulations, documentation, and related material. See, for example:

JavaScript Simulations

As described in the Simulations Section of this website, the OSP team started its JavaScript development effort in 2010/11 when the iPads and Chromebooks were first released and it became apparent that mobile devices without Java support would become important platforms for physics education. Unfortunately, breaking web pages that utilize Java applets was a major setback for the OSP team because there were thousands legacy Java applet-based items on the OSP site, including our original Java Physlets. We addressed this challenge by developing a new version of the Easy Java Simulations authoring tool that is able to create JavaScript as well as Java simulations and by transpiling the existing Physlet code from Java to JavaScript. Current browsers fully support the latest HTML5+JavaScript standard, thereby allowing our new JavaScript-based OSP curricular material to run on all platforms.

Physlet book covers

Physlet Books

Physlets are a collection of 37 small, flexible single-concept simulations created at Davidson College by Wolfgang Christian and his students that help teachers teach and students learn specific physics concepts. Because Java applets could be customized using JavaScript to control the inner works of their code, instructors all of over the world used the original Java-based Physlets to create thousands of interactive web pages to support numerous pedagogies.  Physlets were subsequently in CDs that accompanied English, German, Spanish, Slovenian, and Hebrew books including Physlet Physics by Wolfgang Christian and Mario Belloni and Physlet Quantum Physics by Mario Belloni, Wolfgang Christian and Anne Cox. In 2007 a second edition of these books was released on AAPT-ComPADRE after security concerns disabled Java applet from running when loaded from CDs.

The third edition of Physlet Physics and Physlet Quantum Physics represents a major technological change in how Physlet-based interactive materials are delivered to teachers and students alike. In the first and second editions, these interactive Physlet-based materials relied on Java applets. With the 2014 release of the HTML5 standards, browsers ceased supporting plug-ins, such as Java. In addition, the popularity of smart phones and tablets increased, and these devices never supported Java. To that end, we have partnered with Robert Hansen (St. Olaf College) to use his SwingJS platform to port our Physlet Java Applets to JavaScript/HTML5. Physlet Physics 3E now runs on any platform in any JavaScript-enabled browser.

Shared Filing Cabinets

ComPADRE makes it easy to create and share collections of simulations and other resources using the filing cabinet feature available in the upper right hand corner of the OSP Collection landing page. Logged in users (it is easy to create a ComPADRE account) can quickly copy selected items into their own filing cabinets, where they can add personal notes and formatted citations. In addition AAPT members who link their ComPADRE and AAPT accounts can upload documents, such as lesson plans or course syllabi, that have not been reviewed by a ComPADRE editor into their filing cabinet .

It is easy for instructors to access and collaboratively edit filing cabinets with colleagues and for students to access filing cabinet resources recommended and annotated by their teachers.
  • JavaScript CSM which contains an Easy Java Simulations (EJS) adaptation of an An Introduction to Computer Simulation Methods by Harvey Gould, Jan Tobochnik, and Wolfgang Christian emphasizes physics modeling by example.
  • Astronomy 106 which contains a survey of the current scientific view of the Universe. Emphasis on the physical and mathematical principles necessary to understand how astronomers observe and interpret phenomena.

ComPADRE Books

Shared filing cabinets are a first step I electronic publishing, but ComPADRE takes one step further by allowing users to transform a filing cabinet into a ComPADRE electronic book (ebook). Filing cabinet links are used to generate a table of contents and resources links to OSP simulations automatically become book pages. For example, Kyle Forinash and Wolfgang Christian created 42 ready-to-use interactive simulations which require the reader to click buttons, move sliders, etc. in order to answer questions about the behavior of waves and sound. These simulations are made available in the OSP item page, a filing cabinet, and a ComPADRE ebook.

  • Sound JS Models: A OSP item with links to sound-related simulations.
  • Sound Filing Cabinet: A a shared OSP filing cabinet that organizes resources for teaching the physics of waves and sound.
  • Sound Book: An OSP interactive ebook created from the Sound filing cabinet with an added title page and other front matter.

Another ComPADRE ebook explores economic activity using the asset exchange model to show that inequality may be a general and natural occurrence that is very difficult to prevent.

Textbooks, Worksheets and Lesson Plans

Text-based books, worksheets, and lesson plans are available in the OSP Collection either as individual items or as supplemental documents attached to items. These items are copyrighted by their authors and are distributed from the OSP site for no cost non-commercial use by teachers and students.

The revised Third Edition of An Introduction to Computer Simulation Methods is available at low cost on Amazon and at no cost from the OSP Collection.

  • An Introduction to Computer Simulations Methods: The complete draft of  the Third Edition (revised) of An Introduction to Computer Simulation Methods (CSM) Third Edition. The third edition of CSM is Java-based and uses the object-oriented Open Source Physics code library. 
  • Thermal and Statistical Physics: A textbook for Statistical Mechanics or Thermal and Statistical Physics classes for upper-level undergraduate and/or graduate students. The text makes extensive use of simulations found in osp_stp.jar or by searching STP, OSP or Open Source Physics on ComPADRE. Individual draft chapters in pdf format are also available on ComPADRE.
  • What is Temperature Lesson Plan: A lesson plan for middle school students is downloadable in the supplemental documents section of this item. Search the OSP collection for "lesson plan" to find additional examples.
  • Physlet Exploration Worksheets: Physlet Physics Explorations have worksheets written and donated by Thomas Colbert. Addition lesson plans are available in the supplements section of each chapter in Physlet Physics.
OSP Projects:
Open Source Physics - EJS Modeling
Physlet Physics
Physlet Quantum Physics
STP Book