PhET Logo November 2011 Newsletter

PhET's Annual Campaign

Donate to advance science literacy and education worldwide
25 million uses per year, 65 languages, and growing

Donate Now

Sam overseas for PhET

Your donation brings science to kids in your town and around the world.

So please consider:
$15 if you're a teacher who uses a few sims
$25-50+ if you use more sims
$200+ for individual schools
$500+ for districts

All donations are tax deductible.

Thanks for your support!

Upcoming Events:

AAPT Winter Meeting
Ontario CA
February 4-8, 2012

ACS 2012
San Diego, CA
March 25-29, 2012

ISTE 2012
San Diego, CA
June 24-27, 2012

BCCE 2012
University Park, PA
July 29 - August 2, 2012

In the Pipeline:

  • PhET "Basic" series designed for middle-schoolers
  • Fluid Pressure and Flow
  • Balancing Act
  • Molecule Shapes
    (Real Molecules Tab)
  • Plate Tectonics

Create a DVD Installation Disk

Did you know you can install a local copy of PhET on your computer? And, we've improved our DVD installer to include the teaching activities along with the full suite of PhET sims. Ideal for computers that don't have internet access; all you need is a DVD writer, blank disks and an internet connection.

More PhET PodCasts
on iTunes

Check out our PhET podcasts. Learn more about PhET's Energy Skate Park sim and the Masses & Springs simulations. Are there ideas that you would like to see in podcasts? Let us know.

PhET Honored as 2011 Tech Award Laureate

Tech Awards logo
We're excited to announce that PhET was selected as a 2011 Tech Award Laureate, and the recipient of the Microsoft Education Tech Award $50,000 cash prize. The Tech Award - a signature program of The Tech Museum in San Jose, CA - honors innovators from around the world who are applying technology to benefit humanity in 5 award categories: environment, economic development, equality, education and health. PhET was selected from over 600 applications. Thanks to all our users for your continued support! Watch PhET's Tech Laureaute video.

Featured Sims:

Build a Molecule

Build a Molecule simulation

Build a collection of molecules starting from atoms with the new Build a Molecule sim. See how many you can build and see them in 3D! After the activity, students will be able to:

  • Describe the differences between an atom and a molecule.
  • Construct simple molecules from atoms.
  • Recognize that the subscript in the molecular formula indicates the quantity of that atom in the molecule.
  • Recognize that the coefficient indicates the total number of molecules.

And our research shows it works! Results from a study with 60 fifth graders showed that after playing with the sim, students were able to accurately draw molecules and write chemical formulas (even accurately writing and interpreting coefficients)!

Learn about Resonance with Harmonic Oscillators

Resonance simulation For advanced undergraduate students: Observe resonance in a collection of driven, damped harmonic oscillators. Vary the driving frequency and amplitude, the damping constant, and the mass and spring constant of each resonator. Notice the long-lived transients when damping is small, and observe the phase change for resonators above and below resonance. Students will be able to explain the conditions required for resonance, identify variables that affect the natural frequency, distinguish between natural and driving frequencies, and learn about real-world examples.

Check Out These Other New Simuations:

Meet Our Director:

Recently PhET director, Kathy Perkins, was featured on CU Connections. Here is an adaptation from her interview. For the full transcript, see

What got you involved in PhET?

I had always wanted to do something that would help society so I originally pursued using my science background on environmental problems, specifically atmospheric science. For my graduate degree, I studied ozone depletion and creating new instruments that would help measure chemical compounds important in controlling ozone in the atmosphere.
Katherine Perkins
Then I came to Colorado to focus on tropospheric chemistry. (The troposphere is where we all live.) But I felt a longing to work on a project that had more immediate impact on people and their lives. The university was advertising for a position of physics instructor who would also work in physics education research. That was the first time I'd ever heard of this new - and still growing - field. It was exciting and eye-opening for me to think that you could study how people learn science and take those results and teach science more effectively. In 2003, I began working as a postdoctoral researcher with Carl Wieman, working on the PhET project as well as co-teaching courses for non-science majors. Together we would examine the course content and how it should be taught, and create an interactive lecture experience using clickers and simulations. The idea was to tie the content to everyday life, improve learning and make science relevant and interesting for students.

What are the main goals of PhET?

PhET's mission is to advance science literacy and education worldwide through engaging, interactive simulations. Each simulation offers an intuitive, game-like environment where students can engage in exploration like a scientist would, and where they can see the invisible, so they can literally interact with things like electrons, neutrons and protons to build their own atoms. Through the interaction and the immediate feedback they get, they can develop an understanding of key science concepts such as important cause-and-effect relationships and can build connections to everyday life. They can also experiment with things they can't experiment with in everyday life, such as building molecules, changing gravity, or shooting photons. With the Circuit Construction Kit simulation, for instance, students can interact with a battery by easily increasing or decreasing the voltage with a slider and immediately see how a light bulb gets brighter and electrons go faster when they increase the voltage. With the simulations, students can develop a visual, mental model of what's happening.

What makes PhET different from other simulations?

One thing that makes the PhET project unique is that it's research-based. We take the published research and our own research, digest it, and integrate it into the design. Our group studies the features of effective simulations, how students learn from simulations, and use of simulations in the classroom. Right now, we have about 15 people on the PhET team. It's a great team. Everyone is vested in making the best simulations possible, simulations that are highly effective learning tools and are also fun for students. When we start a new simulation, we create a design team with expertise across different areas. The team will have content specialists, teachers who would use the simulation, design experts, an education researcher and professional software developer. We brainstorm about the simulation. We storyboard the design and develop scenarios of what students would be able to interact with. Once that's done, we start programming and test features as we go along. For every simulation, we conduct interviews with students. During the "think-aloud" interview, we ask them to open and play with everything and talk about what they are doing. We want to see whether students engage with learning from the simulation and find out what is working and what is not. We always learn something, and make revisions as necessary. It takes about four to nine months to complete a simulation.

Where does PhET funding come from?

Most of the funding comes from federal grants and foundations. We want the PhET project to be sustainable for the long-term, however, so we're trying to increase the number of corporate and individual donations. Companies are allowed to use the simulations for free. Pearson, for instance, uses them in textbooks and in their online homework system. We're working to develop an NPR-like model where companies sponsor the project in lieu of a licensing fee, so that we can create more simulations and improve the sustainability of the project. We are also trying to develop a micro-donation model so that individuals can donate small amounts. Every year, 22 million simulations are run from our website and in 5 years we expect this number to be more than 100 million. Eventually, micro-donations could help fund a significant fraction of the budget.

This interview was conducted by Cynthia Pasquale for CU connections, where it originally appeared and from which it is reused with permission

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