Monday, November 11, 2019

Physics tools

One key to adventuring (in a lifelong learning sense) is packrattery. I collect materials because I don't want to have to go shopping or wait for deliveries every time I want to do something. So I have glassware, office supplies, science kits (an inexpensive source of materials and equipment), and chemicals stockpiled in my bedroom.

I had an apartment full in Selma, but, when I moved, I had to get everything into a Chevrolet Astrovan so most of that went to a flea market vendor and I started over in Denver.

I have a standing desk and an old television stand rigged as laboratory desks and a large tool chest for…..well, tools. I've also picked up an Erector set and collect Lego parts for building experiment setups.

My cell phone, a midrange purchase, is my most expensive item but, for these blogs, I assume that most of my readers have one. As always, I try to keep my excursions portable and inexpensive.

Motorola Moto E5 Cruise phone

This is my main lab recorder. Modern cell phones come with several built-in sensors: accelerometers to sense orientation, a light sensor to determine screen brightness, a proximity sensor to detect the nearness of a user's face, and a sound sensor to detect background noise. There's also the camera, GPS, and the phone itself. All these sensors are available to free or inexpensive phone apps for recording things. Some phones have extra sensors. The Moto E5 Cruise has a built in magnetometer which can serve as a compass or electromagnetic field sensor.

Since I already have a portable weather instrument, I did not need the barometer/thermometer/hygrometer available in some phones. 

This phone will also pick up Bluetooth signals so, if it's not set up to measure something I want to measure, I can rig up my Bluetooth enabled Arduino microcomputer to do the job. I also plan to pick up a Bluetooth enabled multimeter soon. Less than $50, it'll be a useful alternative to the Arduino, especially when I start looking at electronics.

I'm well prepared for a year of astronomy and physics.

I have a collection of sensor recorders installed on my phone. Each has its own strengths and limitations. Together, they fulfill my needs quite well.

Physics Toolbox Suite
Vieyra Software

This app is designed for educational activities and the website offers documentation for teachers and students. It has a long list of capabilities including a stroboscope, color generator, tone (signal) generator, sound analyzers, proximeter, and color analyzer, along with the usual acceleration, light, and sound recorders.
It will record point measurements or graphs over time, and will also save .csv files that can be downloaded into a spreadsheet for further analysis. I can stay right with the phone and use Google Docs or transfer it to my borrowed laptop for analysis with DANSYS.


The Sensors app opens all the sensor traces on a single display page, so it's useful for testing the phone's built-in sensors.

Smart Kit 360
Kafui Utils

Kafui's Smart Kit brings together much of the functionality of a phone including a file browser and memory cleaner, list manager, translator, unit converter, dictionary, recorder, video editor...


The Smart Kit is great but it has some glitches, so there's a need for gap management. Particularly, the compass doesn't work with my phone, but there are other compass apps and this one works very well.

Google Science Journal

Created by Google designers and user's, this open source science recorder brings together sensor measurements and tracings (including signals from Bluetooth enabled instruments), narrative text, photographs, and videos to compose complete research reports. There's also lots of documentation and recommendations for experiments and demonstrations.

Just as sensor recorders all have their strengths and weaknesses, so do cell phone cameras. If you plan to rely on your phone for photography, you might want to download multiple camera apps. Get to know your phone and the apps. Understand that your phone might be surprisingly good as a camera, but it isn't perfect. 
For instance, I installed a color meter that surprised me by displaying a nice spectrophotometer chart. The problem is that my camera adds a lot of blue to photographs so it's out as a spectrophotometer unless I can figure out how to true the colors.

Android camera

But I have always been impressed by the photography from built-in Android phone cameras. My current phone, a Motorola Moto E5 Cruise, produces clear photographs. It is capable of enlarging scenes 8x, and it's good for point-and-click photography.

Open Camera
Mark Harman

The Open Camera has an option for repeat exposures, a series of quick shots to catch frames of action. 

Snail Camera

The Snail camera app provided a lot of control over the phone's camera including prolonged exposure, multiple exposures, and remote shutter release with Bluetooth. It also provided bracketing - you can automatically take a series of photos at different exposures to get an idea of the correct value.

Camera hardware

Over the years, I've collected many camera clamps, brackets to attach them to other things, and tripods. They all reside in a fanny pack, except for the big tripod.


Geogebra is great for creating diagrams, graphing, and calculating. The recent versions are in two parts, a graphing calculator and a geometry program. It's the best all around math package I've seen.

Color Grab

A colorimeter program that analyzes color by components or standard name. I expect that it will be useful for measuring relative light absorption but my camera does not accurately reproduce colors, so it probably won't be much use for spectroscopy.

USB Camera
Infitegra Inc.

Physics Pro app
Ananthakrishnan K. R.

Physics pro is a reference program providing information, tables, and formulas.

Physics is a very….well, physical science, so you might want to hook up with some suppliers than can provide stuff at reasonable prices. Some of my favorites are:

American Science and Surplus - -yeah, their ads look like jokes but they're flat serious, cool.

Home Science Tools - - suppliers for homeschoolers, they also sell to individuals with prices intended to make homeschooling affordable.

Sparkfun - - another company based on making stuff affordable, this time, for electronics hobbyists. They also have lots of books and tutorials.

No need to be out of the loop, so be a circuit rider. Jump on the physics bandwagon and mix a few metaphors with me.

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