a data logger is a scientist’s camera

Roger Frost writes: At the time the idea to measure acceleration (and GPS position) in a country park on a Segway was the closest we scientists ever got to being ‘cool’! Of course it hasn’t escaped me that, with our phones and watches, we can carry many measuring tools with us all the time. For example, there ought to be a tag inside this image to say where it was taken. I think it was near Shannon, Ireland

data loggers – the scientist’s camera!

There is a rich world of data waiting to be collected. Take an accelerometer with you on a theme park roller coaster or if that’s too sad, take one into a lift instead. Take a pressure and radioactivity sensor on a plane trip and note how the cabin pressure drops during take off, stabilises at a low level, and is restored during landing. The radioactivity count rate increases during take off, stays high throughout the flight and falls back on landing. Take pressure and temperature sensors on a hot air balloon ride and see how their readings decrease as the balloon rises.

You can shoot a model rocket, see the thrust peak during the initial burn, and then level out as the engine burns out. For this you can use a force sensor – one of a few sensors to take on your next bungee jump. You could run a data logger as a thunder storm looms – you may catch a drop in temperature as a cold front comes over, you may even catch lightening followed by thunder. And just because you are on holiday is no reason to stop learning – no ski holiday would be complete without packing a data logger and sensors to measure temperature, humidity, light level and pressure. Of course, I jest but the more we can relate to the experience, the more students can get a perch on how things work.

Take one final example: on his way to give a talk, colleague John Wardle collected data during his 200-mile winter car journey. The temperature of the car rose, stabilised and dropped briefly as he stopped at a filling station. Likewise, the light level, initially dark, rose steadily throughout the journey. The sound level was high at the beginning and end of his journey, low through most of it and dropped lower during his petrol stop. The start and end of the journey were noisy because they were in town and involved plenty of accelerating. 

If one of the key skills we’re trying to engender in pupils is the ability to predict and use graphs, then these ordinary situations are a means to achieve that. (Sources: PASCO, USA ; John Wardle, Sheffield Hallam University)

The last hour of a long haul flight: graph showing the pressure change. Thanks to www.data-harvest.co.uk. 

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