HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE OF PHYSICS ON THE SMARTPHONE
Social Entrepreneurship from Aachen in action for international educational justice.
Physics is what is happening all around us, all the time. But it can only be measured with the help of complex, expensive and difficult-to-use devices. Right?
SMARTPHONES IN PHYSICS - MEASURING DEVICES TO GO
"No," says Prof. Christoph Stampfer, head of the II Physics Institute A at RWTH Aachen University, "most of us have an extremely accurate and highly versatile measuring device with us wherever we go: our smartphone".
The reason: smartphones come with a whole range of built-in sensors, such as an acceleration sensor, magnetic field sensor, rotation rate sensor, light sensor, air pressure sensor, proximity sensor, GPS, microphone or Bluetooth for custom devices. So in 2015, a look at these technical conditions gave rise to the idea of using the available sensors of modern smartphones for physical experiments and thus making abstract physical processes tangible for a broader public. The idea of the app "phyphox", short for "physical phone experiments", was born.
PHYSICAL EXPERIMENTS IN SCHOOL AND UNIVERSITY - DOING INSTEAD OF WATCHING
With the ever-increasing complexity of modern technologies, the importance of a solid basic understanding of science is also growing. The acquisition of such knowledge not only poses special challenges for the young generation, but also changes the demands on teaching. In order to be able to meet precisely these difficulties, the focus of phyphox has always been on teaching physical knowledge in schools and universities. The goal: turning children, teenagers and students into true explorers - without elaborate, expensive, complicated equipment, anytime and anywhere. In line with the didactic shift away from lecture-style teaching towards more effective cooperative forms of education, teachers can now use phyphox to actively introduce physical principles and scientific working methods. Instead of passively watching the teacher’s demonstration, school and university students can carry out their own physical experiments.
MADE IN AACHEN - DESIGNED FOR THE WORLD
The app developed by Dr. Sebastian Staacks at the II Institute of Physics A under Prof. Christoph Stampfer and under the didactic guidance of Prof. Heidrun Heinke at RWTH Aachen University attracted great interest from the public. The evidence: Five years after the start of the project, phyphox can already boast more than 1.3 million installations. And that's not all: The app has been translated into more than 20 languages by volunteers from all over the world and is supported by 51 phyphox ambassadors worldwide in their respective regions. Published under an open source licence, the app is available for smartphones with Android or iOS and is completely free of charge for the user. And it is meant to stay that way.
A STEP TOWARDS EDUCATIONAL JUSTICE
Due to the great demand, the recently enlarged phyphox team is now planning to expand the app's potential by developing an external sensor box set. To realise this step, the phyphox team is participating in the RWTH Innovation Sprint – a funding instrument of RWTH Innovation for the development of prototypes as part of the Exzellenz Start-up Center.NRW initiative for more start-up potential at RWTH. Depending on the subject area, sensor boxes with flexible in-class applications can be connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth, for example to observe the phase change of voltage and current or to determine the heart rate using a photodiode and LED. For the sensor boxes, too, the rule is: the cheaper, the better. In this way, the phyphox team wants to contribute to more educational justice, also in developing countries.
The vision: "phyphox will allow physical experiments to be conducted even in places where funds for school lessons are limited", says Dr. Sebastian Staacks.
Accordingly, the distribution of the sensor box set is only meant to serve as a financial basis for the sustainable operation of the app, as Prof. Stampfer explains:
"Our primary goal is to get as many children and young people as possible excited about science and technology and to make STEM education more contemporary and attractive."
RWTH Innovation supports and accompanies the phyphox team in raising its entrepreneurial potential, developing a business model and thus making its app accessible to a wider public. Technology transfer should achieve sustainability and carry good ideas from the university into society. We are proud to be part of the story of such an inspiring example of social entrepreneurship and are eagerly following the next steps in the development of phyphox.