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2010 News Releases

Article by Longwood professor & students published in physics journal

February 4, 2010

Chris Moore, assistant professor of physics at Longwood University Dr. Chris Moore, assistant professor of physics at Longwood University

Many students in college and high school physics courses struggle when trying to predict how an object will move through the air, which requires a strong background in trigonometry that many students lack. Thanks to a Longwood University physics professor and four of his students, though, this task should be more accessible.

Dr. Chris Moore, assistant professor of physics, and the undergraduates tackled the problem in a class that led to an article that has been accepted for publication in a refereed international journal. The topic is related to research Moore has done on the physics of punting a football.

The article, "Graphical method for determining projectile trajectory," will appear in a fall 2010 issue of The Physics Teacher, published 10 times a year (monthly except for two summer months) by the American Association of Physics Teachers, which is part of the American Institute of Physics. Moore's co-authors were John Baker, Louis Franzel, David McMahon and Daniel Songer, all physics majors who graduated in May 2009.

The article evolved from a senior capstone course, Unifying Principles of Physics, which they took in spring 2009 under Moore and two of his physics colleagues, Dr. Rodney Dunning and Dr. Timothy Holmstrom. The article was submitted to the journal in May 2009, and Moore learned in mid-December 2009 that it had been accepted.

"This journal rarely publishes articles with undergraduate co-authors, so it's kind of a big deal," said Moore. "Plus, they accept only one-third of submissions. This is the major pedagogy journal in physics and is read both by high school teachers and college faculty."

The article features a "lab activity and a series of guided-inquiry lessons" to help students in a conceptual physics course for non-science major determine projectile trajectory with little prerequisite knowledge in mathematics, Moore said. "These activities were implemented in a course this past fall, and our data suggest that participating students better learned projectile concepts compared to those students receiving traditional instruction," Moore said.

"The purpose of the Unifying Principles of Physics course is to teach our physics majors how to be scholars," he said. "The undergraduate co-authors first reviewed the pedagogical literature on the topic of two-dimensional motion, like a football or cannon ball going through the air, to determine what others have found to be common student misconceptions. They found the holes in the literature, the things that hadn't really been discussed about the topic. Based on this, they decided to develop a method for determining the trajectory of a projectile using graph paper, a protractor, and a ruler. From this, we came up with a lab activity and a series of lessons for Conceptual Physics."

In the introduction to the article, Moore and his co-authors wrote "We present a non-trigonometric, graphical method for predicting the trajectory of a projectile when the angle and initial velocity are known. Students enrolled in a general-education, conceptual physics course typically have weak backgrounds in trigonometry, making inaccessible the standard analytical calculation of projectile range. Furthermore, research shows that standard instructional techniques fail to confront student misconceptions about motion in a gravitational field."

The method that was developed for determining projectile trajectories, the article says, "requires no advanced mathematical tools, making otherwise complicated projectile motion problems accessible to the non-science major or high school student. Furthermore, when combined with guided-inquiry pedagogy, this method explicitly addresses common student misconceptions in a highly visual way."

As part of the senior capstone course, students "learn how to write and present professional scholarship," Moore said. "Each of the students had to submit a paper, and then we combined them into one paper for the journal." One of the students, Louis Franzel, is now in graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University, pursuing a Ph.D. in its Nanoscience and Nanotechnology program.

Moore has for several years been interested in the physics of football punting. Entries on the subject appear on a personal blog (ilovephysics.com) that he started for his students in 2004 when teaching at St. Catherine's School, a Richmond high school. Because of his web site, Moore was called "out of the blue" by a researcher from the Dallas Morning News (DMN) in August 2009. The call came the day after a punt in an NFL preseason game struck a video board in the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium that, unlike most such electronic boards, is suspended directly over the field, 90 feet above the playing surface, and it's also unusually long (60 yards).

"The caller wanted to know my sources," said Moore, who was quoted in an article that appeared the next day (Aug. 23) in the DMN. "I had calculated the angles at which punts would go the farthest. The best angle for long punts would be 45 degrees, but punters kick it at a slightly steeper angle, 55 to 60 degrees, sacrificing distance to gain time for the punting team to get downfield. I did some quick calculations after that punt hit the video board. The next day, Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones said you could hit it only if you kicked it straight up. As our students figured out, if you know the angle and speed of the punt, you can calculate heights and distance and how long it takes for the punt to go downfield. We were able to quickly determine that Jerry Jones' statement was wrong."

In addition to the forthcoming article in The Physics Teacher, Moore also is the co-author of an article that was published in the Journal of Applied Physics in June 2009. The article, "Electronic behavior of the Zn- and O-polar ZnO surfaces studied using conductive atomic force microscopy," was co-authored with four others, including two Longwood graduates, Sean Kenny ('09) and Crystal Storey ('05), who now teaches at Virginia State University. The article evolved from a research project funded by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation. In the project, Moore and two colleagues from VCU, Dr. Alison Baski and Dr. Michael Reshchikov, are studying how the surfaces of semiconductors gallium nitride and zinc oxide affect their electrical and optical properties. One year is left in the grant, which could help improve technology for high-density optical discs and PlayStation games.

"Undergraduate scholarship is one of our signature programs," said Moore. "We aren't satisfied with just teaching students a bunch of topics. We want to transform them into citizen leaders and professionals in their field. That is why I try to involve as many undergraduate students as possible into all areas of my own scholarship, and publishing papers co-written by them is part of that process."