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  Home > News > Latest news > Xplora hands out the Millikan web experiment to Helsingin Yhteislyseo  

Xplora hands out the Millikan web experiment to Helsingin Yhteislyseo

Xplora – the European Gateway for Science Education has received a grant from Agilent foundation to develop the web version of a classical Nobel prize winning experiment, which deploys the full potential of web technology in physics education. After more than a year of development work, this experiment is now hosted at Helsingin Yhteislyseo, a private high school (Gymnasium) in Helsinki, Finland.

When Xplora received the grant from Agilent foundation about one year ago (see a press release), the team of developers at the University of Kaiserslautern was not sure if they succeeded to implement the experiment in a way, that students would be enabled to run the experiment themselves. Many technical obstacles hindered the use of the experiment in a school laboratory and consequently the layout as a Remote Controlled Laboratory (RCL), which is the kernel of a web experiment, caused frowns when the development was started. But finally all these obstacles were mastered and the experiment is now available in an easy to use way, which allows students to obtain quantitative results from an experiment, rarely used in schools.

This is such a great success, as the Millikan experiment is so far the only experiment, telling us about the nature of charge. It was the first and only experiment, that allowed the conclusion, that charge exists in portions only. It allowed even the determination of the charges portion, called the elementary charge. This result at the dawn of quantum mechanics brought a Nobel prize to the inventor, Robert Andrews Millikan, whose name is attached to this experimental setup.

The principle of operation is easy: Blow oil drops between the two plates of an electrical condenser and watch them drop though a microscope. Then switch on a voltage to the condenser plates and watch the difference in speed. This allows the calculation of the amount of charge on the oil drops, which they got by friction when blown into the condenser. But then comes the tricky part: A conclusion about the quantum nature of charge requires hundreds or better thousands of results to be available. How could a student do this, when taking one measurement would take him a day?

The Internet brought the solution in form of a database, where a pupil can save his result and contribute to the collection of results needed for Millikans observation. With this technology, developed by Xplora and available on Xplora's website, a student can now contribute to Millikan's Nobel prize winning experiment. He is in fact part of a so far unknown knowledge generating process. He is consumer and producer of data, which clearly verify Millikan's concept of the elementary charge. Xplora is proud to demonstrate this breakthrough concept of a real experiment, giving real data enabling students to follow Millikan's concept by Internet technology. Thanks to Agilent foundation, who has supported this idea at a moment, when it was not clear if this idea could really be turned into reality, Xplora has proved that the Internet cannot only be used for information retrieval, but also for a kind of experimentation, which was collecting dust in school labs due to the lack of data availability. This experiment turns pupils to real researchers who work in a community with each other supporting the availability of results.

The hardware of the experiment was developed by Florian Glas, a physics teacher from the team of the AG Jodl (rcl.physik.uni-kl.de) at the University of Kaiserslautern, who has a lot of experience in the development of remote controlled laboratories for educational use.

Nevertheless Xplora does not feel that this is the end of development, but the start of a community of schools hosting web experiments. Pupils do not need to trust the Internet. They can visit the experiment after contacting the hosting school to see that they have operated a real experiment and not a simulation. For further information contact Karl Sarnow (karl.sarnow@eun.org).

The Millikan web experiment is freely available on Xplora's community. Register to Xplora (www.xplora.org), login and go to the Web experiments section on the desktop. Information will be made available in major European languages. So far the information is available in German language only.

Xplora is hosted by European Schoolnet (www.europeanschoolnet.org) and financed by PENCIL, a project of the European Commission.

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