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Apps for Learning - Physics



So, 2016 is now well underway. The NYE hangover is a fading memory, and resolutions are being left by the wayside across the world. The trouble with everyone making a commitment to self improvement on the same day is that it ends up feeling hollow, like rather than identifying an aspect of your life that you want to change, you've just picked one because it's a new year and everybody else is doing it. Well, here's what I would suggest - learn stuff.

It might sound broad, but saying that you're going to take some time to learn about something new, or revisit something you haven't been near since school is a realistic commitment that doesn't actually require as much effort as you might think, especially if you take advantage of the app market. That in mind, apps for learning is back for another year, and for the first round we're returning to something covered when the series was brand new - the sciences. Last time it was chemistry, this time it's physics.


Physics

iTunes
As the name suggests, this iOS app is kind of an all-rounder, a comprehensive guide on all things physical (not like that, get your mind out of the gutter). Using a simple list interface that's easy to understand and navigate, regardless of your learning level, the app allows you to learn about the formulas and theory behind every aspect of physics from mechanics to wave phenomena to geometric optics. It might seem daunting at first, but once you get into a flow with the reading, you'll soon be able to look at equations which were previous incomprehensible and understand them perfectly.


Gravity Lab

iTunes
What better way to learn about the laws of physics than to build your own universe? Particle physics and gravity are often difficult to understand on paper but with the aid of this slick, ingenious app, it becomes that much easier to grasp, and far more engaging. It includes a concise guide on Newton's laws, which is worth reading before you get started, and then from there you use a series of tap and drag tools to create stationary bodies, velocity vectors and everything else you need to create a full functioning solar system. Beyond that, the universe is your oyster, you can collide bodies, demonstrate the gravitational slingshot and just generally play around, but whatever you're doing, your understanding of gravitational physics will be increasing.


Tinkerbox HD


iTunes
Fundamentally, physics is the study of the way forces act on each other, from gravity to entropy to magnetism, and puzzles are an excellent means of demonstrating how they work. There are a plethora of physics-based puzzle games on the app store but few present themselves in such an educational context as Tinkerbox. There are two ways to play it: the first is to simply complete a series of physics-based puzzles, gorgeously presented with a consistent learning curve and gorgeous visuals, and the second is a mode which allows you to create your own. All custom puzzles are shareable, and the most popular user-generated ones feature on the app's official website. The way this links understanding and application makes it so much more than just an amusing distraction.


Mobile Observatory - Astronomy

Google Play
Obviously, no list of physics related apps would be complete without an astronomical one. Well, two, three if you count Gravity Lab. Mobile Observatory is exactly what it purports to be, a slick, beautifully designed map of the stars which enables you to learn about every star, solar system and nebula in the night sky. It also keeps you up to date with all the upcoming astronomical events, letting you know what will be visible in your area and when. The sheer volume of information on offer is nothing short of staggering, it would take days to sift through all the content on offer here, but it's organised in such a way that you can jump on the app for 5 minutes whenever the mood takes you and come away with a slightly expanded cranium.


Simple Physics

iTunes
Don't let the title of this app mislead you, this building puzzler is uniquely challenging and fiendishly addictive. Basically, you build stuff, with steadily climbing levels of complexity. Where the physics comes in is that the structures adhere to realistic laws, so you have to apply them to figure out what will work, what will flop impotently to the ground and what will smash itself into a million pieces. The added challenge is price; materials all have a set cost and you have to try and build a working structure for as little cash as possible. When the builds start moving into more complex territory, like ferris wheels and draw bridges, your brain really starts to get tested, but there's always the option to blow it all up if you get too frustrated.


Isaac Newton's Gravity HD

iTunes
Another puzzler that demonstrates how gravitational laws work in practice, by building Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions which rely on it to activate. As the levels progress, you're given hints and advice from a little Newton avatar, who relates his hints back to the fundamental theories laid down by the real one. Like Tinkerbox, you can also create your own puzzles and share them. It's a great looking game, with a razor sharp frame rate and eye catching backgrounds for each level. There are over 100 levels included on the full version and volumes more user-generated ones available.


Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe

iTunes
I couldn't finish out this list without including this, since it's based on the show that rekindled my interest in physics as an adult, and I'm sure it's the same for countless others. This app is every bit as stunning as the show that spawned it, allowing you to travel all the way from our home solar system to the edge of the known universe, with countless spectacular landmarks along the way. There are more than 200 articles, penned by Cox himself, attached to different intergalactic phenomena, as well as video content from the show itself, and visual material provided by NASA and other experts and researchers. 



Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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Apps for Learning - Physics Reviewed by Callum Davies on Wednesday, January 20, 2016 Rating: 5

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