YouTube Physics: Quick, Appealing, and Engaging Lessons

by Dean Baird

The lessons below were designed to work as quick drop-ins in a high school physics class. I'm sure they could work in other science courses, too. These are not the "meat and potatoes" of the course, but they serve as engaging enrichments. Most items have an associated Blog of Phyz entry. Some of the resources include curriculum material. You are welcome to use them for classroom instruction and modify them as you see fit. Since the items include hot-linked video clips, they could disappear from the web at any time. I blogged a post about archiving web-based video clips if you're interested. It's for Mac OSX users; PC users have their own ways, no doubt.

To conserve space, I posted "video thumbnails" here. You'll figure out how to access larger views with a few clicks. I don't recommend playing "elevator" by activating all the videos in rapid succession. The cacophony of sight, sound, and motion is a little overwhelming.

I also hope to add more lessons as more material materializes. If you know of something that would work here, send it my way. If you have thoughts or comments on the items, it's probably best to add them to the comments in the linked blog entries. For now, enjoy!

THUMBNAIL (click to play)
TITLE (click to go to source) & DESCRIPTION

Tavurvur Volcano Explodes
Nice before-to-during video of a volcanic eruption. Car-sized boulders are launched into projectile motion. Sound makes its way from volcano to observers. And—at the moment of eruption—an adiabatic expansion cloud. So many physics: what's not to love?
Blog of Phyz entry

Student Worksheet

Projectiles / Sound / Thermo

Understanding Car Crashes: It's Basic Physics
What happens to vehicles and their occupants in crashes is determined by science. "You can't argue with the laws of physics," says Griff Jones, award-winning high school physics teacher who goes behind the scenes at the Institute's Vehicle Research Center to explore the basic science behind car crashes. Using a series of vehicle maneuvers on a test track plus filmed results of vehicle crash tests, Jones explains in anything but lecture style the concept of inertia, the relationship between crash forces and inertia, momentum and impulse, and a lot more.
YouTube Physics: Danger and Safety in Car Crashes

1st Semester Mechanics

Earth from Michael König on Vimeo.

Time lapse sequences of photographs taken by the crew of expeditions 28 & 29 onboard the International Space Station from August to October, 2011, who to my knowledge shot these pictures at an altitude of around 350 km.
All credit goes to them.
YouTube Geophysics

Honda Cog
One of the finest Rube Goldberg machines ever filmed. But at what cost? Purportedly over £6M and the dismantling of two of the six hand-built Honda Accords. It apparently took months to shoot and the whole sequence worked without fail on take 606. No trick photography. No CGI. This one's for real. Enjoy.
Blog of Phyz entry

Free-form Workshett (event list)

1st Semester Mechanics

Danny MacAskill: Inspired Bicycles - April 2009
Scottish stunt cyclist extraordinaire shows an amazing intuition for physics as he rides his trials bike through Edinburgh. Motion, energy, momentum, rotation: it's all in there. First-rate stunts, cinematography, and soundtrack (Band of Horses) make this 5:38 clip a must-see! Over twenty-seven million views as of October, 2011.
Blog of Phyz entry*


Conceptual Physics 11th Ed. Lab Manual Hewitt/Baird: The Bicycle Dancer of Edinburgh

1st Semester Mechanics

OK Go: This Too Shall Pass - Rube Goldberg Version
I don't have any curriculum for this one. But it's not to be missed!
Blog of Phyz entry

1st Semester Mechanics

Newton's Cradle Telekinesis
An ordinary Newton's cradle. But how can all balls mutually repel?
Blog of Phyz entry

1st Semester Mechanics

Mind-Expanding Spiral: Vanilla Version
Take this illusion for a spin: it will mess with your eyes! Stare at the red dot while the spiral spins. When the spiral disappears, look at something (or someone) who is not moving.

Mind-Expanding Spiral: Alfred E. Newman Version
Enjoy it while you can.

Frames of Reference, Part 1
Frames of Reference, Part 2

Dodge Nitro: Auto Launcher
A hip, good-looking Nitro driver offers assistance to a balding, doughey non-Nitro motorist in distress. The jump-start was more than was expected. The clip lends itself to invocations of some classic one-dimensional kinematics equations. The Blog of Phyz entry has more info.
Blog of Phyz entry

Advanced Kinematics

Car Bowling Fail
I'm not sure what the hoped-for outcome of this experiment/stunt was. But it didn't end well for the vehicle owner. Still though, there is an object lesson in inertia here. See if your srudents can identify where this one went wrong and the multilple ways that the unhappy outcome might have been avoided.
Blog of Phyz entry

Motion & Inertia

Tablecloth Trick XXXL
BMW shows their motorcycle pulling the tablecloth out from under an elaborate table setting.

Tablecloth Trick XXXL Debinked by the Mythbusters
This is what they do.
Blog of Phyz Entry

Inertia and Impulse

Blog of Phyz entry

Michel & Sven's Tablecloth Trick 1
Too much time, boys.
Michel & Sven's Tablecloth Trick 2
Too much pot, Sven.
Michel & Sven's Tablecloth Trick 3
Too many pots, Michel.
Michel & Sven's Tablecloth Trick 4
Poor Michel. He will be missed.
Michel & Sven Full Video
Blog of Phyz entry

Inertia and Impulse

Target Shopping Cart Fail
A body will persist in its state of rest ... unless compelled to change that state by unbalanced forces impressed upon it.

Bamboo Delivery Truck Win
Inertia can be your friend if you know how to leverage it.
Blog of Phyz entry


The Amaz!ng Jump 2010
There was nothing difficult about the jump. Watching the video of the scary Charles Manson look-alike explain that you can't sue the company if they kill you on purpose was off-putting. The fee was steep. The flairs worked on your tummy a bit. But the ride was great and the landing was easy. Poor Scotty was a captive audience for the breif physics lesson that I gave hime (and he cut from the final video). Good times!
Blog of Phyz entry


What Revolves Around the Earth?
The French version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire featured dramatic footage of a contestant clearly stumpted by a seemingly simple astronomy question. The drama takes an unexpected turn when he asks the audience for help. The Blog of Phyz entry has more info.
UPDATE: The original hotlink went dead, but the newly embedded video has subtitles for non-Francophones.
Blog of Phyz entry

UCM & Gravity

Mercedes Tunnel Barrel Roll
Good fun, despite its apparent lack of truthiness. My recommendation is that you download the clip and watch it frame by frame during the barrel roll. The hard corners are ramped at just the right places. (I can believe it for entering the roll, but not so much for the exit.) And the light fixtures disappear in strategic locations as if by Photoshop!
Blog of Phyz entry

UCM & Gravity

Science and the FedEx Superbowl XLI Ad
The good people at Federal Express paid their $2.4M per 30 seconds for an ad that could aptly be described as a catalog of physics and astronomy misconceptions. The Blog of Phyz entry has more info. Don't forget to pre-quiz your students with the student worksheet (see link to the right).
Blog of Phyz entry
Student Worksheet

UCM & Gravity

Hammer and Feather Drop on The Moon
Apollo 15's David Scott drops a falcon feather and a hammer. The Lunar Module on Apollo 15 was the Falcon just as the LM on Apollo 11 was the Eagle.
Freefall / Gravity

OK Go - Upside Down & Inside Out
This time the band takes flight in a Russian "Vomit Comet" courtesy of S7 Airlines. As you might suspect, zero-g shenanigans ensue.

The Making of OK Go's Upside Down & Inside Out
How the video was designed, shot, and edited.
Blog of Phyz entry

Freefall / Gravity

Entertaining with Equilibrium
True power balance!
Blog of Phyz entry

Energy / Equilibrium

Diet Coke and Mentos
Eepybird Demos
Demo: Fountain of Phyz


>>> No embedded video; download link >>>
Firewalkers Put to the Test
British psychology professor Richard Wiseman challenged the paranormal explanation of firewalking. The results were not without humour. Spoiler alert: there are no energetic force fields accessed through meditation that can save your feet from being burned by hot coals. The Blog of Phyz entry has more info.
Blog of Phyz entry

Intro to Heat

Leidenfrost "Bubbleball"
Paul Robninson's serendipitous discovery that a glowing brass ball dipped into hot water makes for a dramatic demonstration of the Leidenfrost Effect. The Blog of Phyz entry has more info and more video clips, including an embarrassing blooper!
Blog of Phyz entry

Intro to Heat
Time Fountain
This is just very groovy. I found it while gearing up for ExploratoRio. It's reminiscent of the Exploratorium's Strobe Fountain and ExploratoRio's Dancing Drops. But--wow--seriously engineered! The Blog of Phyz entry has more info.
Blog of Phyz entry

I Blew My Top
I used the high-speed to record pie tins flying off my head (like you never did!). Notice that the tins (made of aluminum, of course), repel one another and they are repeled by me. I know, I know; so what else is new?
Blog of Phyz entry


Stay with the Pump!
I don't recall where I heard it (sadly), but I recall that gas hos nozzle flares like this one happen more to woment than to men. Triboelectrictricity is without pity.

Electroman Tesla Coil Imperial March
Those crazy kids at ArcAttack. Will they never learn?
Blog of Phyz entry


Electricity Lesson NOT Safe for Students
No thumbnail here. The link will take you to the download site, designed by physics teacher Dick Heckathorn. The clip includes particularly unsavory scenes from the "Electricity" edition of the Tell Me Why series. Watch it and you'll see why my comment is, "Oh, the humanity!" Don't forget to deploy the student worksheet before viewing this disaster in class. Oh, you can show it in class, but not as a lesson in correct content.
Student Worksheet


Human Circuits
It's true, the Marquis de Sade might approve of the tactics seen in this clip. Still though, there's good physics to be enjoyed. And who doesn't like seeing otherwise intelligent people accepting electric shocks? It's a far cry (!) from the Milgram Experiment.
Blog of Phyz entry includes links to student worksheet and teacher presentation

Advanced Circuits

ArcAttack on America's Got Talent
The Troubadours of Tesla take there talents to television with an electrifying rendition of "The Imperial March." Sharon Osbourne somehow manages embarrass herself.

In Space No One Can Hear You Scream
What better way to introduce the importaqnce of a medium in mechanical wave propagation?

Honda's Musical Road
You're picking up good vibrations in Lancaster, California.
Waves: Vibrations and Sound

Sheldon Cooper and The Doppler Effect Costume

Blog of Phyz entry


Shock Waves at YouTube
The classic no-sound (but highly visual) clip. The title link above will take you to a fruitful YouTube search.

MythBusters - Fun with Gas!
The helium- and sulfur hexafluoride-voices of Adam Savage. There are distinct dangers in both these demonstrations. If you don't know what they are, you really shouldn't attempt them. Isn't nice to have video of someone else doing them?
Harmonic Motion & Resonance
[No embedding on this. Click the link >>>]
MythBusters - Breaking Glass with a Human Voice
A MythBuster's World First Exclusive! A heavy metal vocalist summons the pitch and power to shatter a wine glass with his unamplified voice.
Harmonic Motion & Resonance

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse
Blog of Phyz entry

Harmonic Motion & Resonance

Volgograd Bridge - The New Tacoma Narrows Bridge
Blog of Phyz entry

Harmonic Motion & Resonance

Victoria Phyz Falls - Baird's Bungee Bounce
While on the best and most complex trip of my life (so far), I traveled to Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls to shoot it to the best of my ability, and to jump off the bridge. The resulting video was rich in physics. So physics I did.

See the Blog of Phyz entry to find a shorter version of the video.
Blog of Phyz entry

Student worksheet

Freefall / Energy / SHM

Color Mixing - here's The Octopus?
Cephalopods are masters of disguise. They use a biological form of color-mixing via their chromatophores. 
Light and Color

Color Mixing – The Mystery of Magenta
A physicist explains how we fabricate the magneta in our minds. I'm still processing this a bit; I don't think he's referring to violet here.
Blog of Phyz entry

Light and Color

Reflected Color & Color Subtraction
Illuminating colored objects with colored light yields some surprising results.

Reflected Color on Duplos
Once more, with Duplos!
Blog of Phyz entry

Light and Color

Alkali Metals Make Big Boom
Yeah, this is more chemistry than physics. But remember: in the end, it's all physics. And this is what happens when the Brainiacs get hold of some rubidium and cesium. As Mr. Tickle so eloquently puts it, "Warning warning warning! Extreme danger; clear the area!"

Note: The last two explosions were fabricated, and did not involve actual alkali metals.

Phyz and web video links
Dean's Phyz Website
Ms. Barnett's YouTube Favorites

The Blog of Phyz

Updated February 2016.