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written by Michael Fowler and Heather Welch
This page simulates the 1887 Michelson-Morley Experiment, one of the most famous null results in history. The purpose of the experiment was to prove the existence of "luminiferous aether" considered at the time to be the medium through which light propagated. Students can control the interferometer by changing the speed of light, altering the aether, and rotating the experimental chamber. The results of this experiment provided the first clear demonstration that the "aether drag theory" was seriously flawed.
Editor's Note: See Related Materials for a detailed tutorial on the Michelson-Morley experiment. In the 1880's, the "aether wind theory" was so widely accepted that scientists were shocked by the results of this experiment. A flurry of new experimentation was conducted to "save" the aether wind theory......all with null results. This topic could be an effective springboard to examine the difficulties arising when deeply-entrenched scientific ideas are proven erroneous.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
General Physics
- History
- Geometrical Optics
= Speed of Light
- Special Relativity
- High School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Instructional Material
= Interactive Simulation
- Audio/Visual
= Movie/Animation
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Activity
- New teachers
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© 2004 Michael Fowler
Aether, Michelson-Morley, Speed of light, aether drag
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created June 19, 2008 by Christopher Allen
Record Updated:
July 5, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Last Update
when Cataloged:
May 30, 2010

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

1. The Nature of Science

1A. The Scientific Worldview
  • 6-8: 1A/M2. Scientific knowledge is subject to modification as new information challenges prevailing theories and as a new theory leads to looking at old observations in a new way.
  • 9-12: 1A/H2. From time to time, major shifts occur in the scientific view of how things work. More often, however, the changes that take place in the body of scientific knowledge are small modifications of prior knowledge. Continuity and change are persistent features of science.
  • 9-12: 1A/H3bc. In science, the testing, revising, and occasional discarding of theories, new and old, never ends. This ongoing process leads to a better understanding of how things work in the world but not to absolute truth.
1B. Scientific Inquiry
  • 9-12: 1B/H7. New ideas in science are limited by the context in which they are conceived; are often rejected by the scientific establishment; sometimes spring from unexpected findings; and usually grow slowly, through contributions from many investigators.

4. The Physical Setting

4F. Motion
  • 9-12: 4F/H3c. In empty space, all electromagnetic waves move at the same speed—the "speed of light."
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Record Link
AIP Format
M. Fowler and H. Welch, (2004), WWW Document, (http://galileo.phys.virginia.edu/classes/109N/more_stuff/flashlets/mmexpt6.htm).
M. Fowler and H. Welch, Fowler's Physics Applets: Michelson-Morley Experiment, (2004), <http://galileo.phys.virginia.edu/classes/109N/more_stuff/flashlets/mmexpt6.htm>.
APA Format
Fowler, M., & Welch, H. (2010, May 30). Fowler's Physics Applets: Michelson-Morley Experiment. Retrieved March 1, 2021, from http://galileo.phys.virginia.edu/classes/109N/more_stuff/flashlets/mmexpt6.htm
Chicago Format
Fowler, Michael, and Heather Welch. Fowler's Physics Applets: Michelson-Morley Experiment. May 30, 2010. http://galileo.phys.virginia.edu/classes/109N/more_stuff/flashlets/mmexpt6.htm (accessed 1 March 2021).
MLA Format
Fowler, Michael, and Heather Welch. Fowler's Physics Applets: Michelson-Morley Experiment. 2004. 30 May 2010. 1 Mar. 2021 <http://galileo.phys.virginia.edu/classes/109N/more_stuff/flashlets/mmexpt6.htm>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Author = "Michael Fowler and Heather Welch", Title = {Fowler's Physics Applets: Michelson-Morley Experiment}, Volume = {2021}, Number = {1 March 2021}, Month = {May 30, 2010}, Year = {2004} }
Refer Export Format

%A Michael Fowler
%A Heather Welch
%T Fowler's Physics Applets: Michelson-Morley Experiment
%D May 30, 2010
%U http://galileo.phys.virginia.edu/classes/109N/more_stuff/flashlets/mmexpt6.htm
%O application/flash

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%A Fowler, Michael
%A Welch, Heather
%D May 30, 2010
%T Fowler's Physics Applets: Michelson-Morley Experiment
%V 2021
%N 1 March 2021
%8 May 30, 2010
%9 application/flash
%U http://galileo.phys.virginia.edu/classes/109N/more_stuff/flashlets/mmexpt6.htm

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Fowler's Physics Applets: Michelson-Morley Experiment:

Covers the Same Topic As Einstein Light: Michelson, Morley and the speed of light

A tutorial that discusses the Michelson-Morley experiment in detail, including its implications in paving the way for special relativity.

relation by Caroline Hall

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