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The shuttering of schools and universities around the globe has left educators scrambling to take their normal in-person classes online. Virtual lectures quickly replaced chalk-board talks. But creating remote laboratory classes proved trickier as the school’s oscilloscopes, light meters, and barometers remain behind locked doors. Some teachers decided to scrap the measurement-taking aspect of labs, asking students to analyze existing datasets instead. Many educators, however, have turned to smartphones and tablets—devices found in most homes—whose sensors can measure everything from a magnetic force to atmospheric pressure. As a consequence, the developers of apps that interface with the sensors report a significant increase in the number of downloads of their software over recent weeks.




“You cannot take home a whole physics laboratory, but most people have a smartphone,” says Juan Carlos Castro Palacio, a nuclear physicist from Spain, who studies the use of smartphones as educational tools for physics. With a phone, you can conduct experiments on most of the topics of a general physics lab, he says.




One popular physics app is Physics Toolbox, a program that allows users to record measurements taken using a phone’s sensors. According to its creators, husband and wife duo Chrystian and Rebecca Vieyra, downloads of the app were up 25% in the month of March. Normally, the number of new users is consistent throughout the school year, “so this is more than just a blip,” Rebecca says. She added that a company near Paris contacted the couple last month about putting the app on tablets being sent home with local school children. Another app, Phyphox, saw a download uptick of 30% in the second half of March. “I’ve had several emails from teachers emphasizing how helpful Phyphox is in the current situation,” says Sebastian Staacks, at the University of Aachen in Germany, who created Phyphox.

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Category: Science