The M.U.P.P.E.T. Utilities -- Programming tools for solving physics problems
The explosive growth of computer power in the past two decades has changed the way physics is done enormously. The computer lets us do calculations and solve problems that were considered permanently unsolvable a generation ago. Yet so far the computer has had surprisingly little impact on the teaching of physics. It isn't hard to see why. Until recently it was too expensive to provide all students with unlimited access to the hardware. But the recent development of cheap but powerful personal computers and workstations has changed all that. Furthermore, for students to really use the computer powerfully and effectively they have to learn to program it, not just to use pre-written and commercial packages. We don't want to require that students have an elaborate knowledge of computer programming before they can begin their study of physics. This would put additional barriers before a subject already perceived as difficult, and would be of doubtful value.
Producing programs that give clear and easy-to-understand solutions to physics problems has been a time-consuming and error-prone affair. Computer use and software development in education have tended to be restricted to ``the experts" --- to faculty willing to devote a large fraction of their time and effort to software development, and to advanced students working on research problems.
The philosophy of the Maryland University Project in Physics and Educational Technology (M.U.P.P.E.T.) is to open up this process --- to break the dominance of software designers over the students' use of the computer. We want both teachers and students to see the computer as a powerful and flexible tool for solving problems. We want them to feel that they themselves are in control: not the computer, not the software designer.
In this book, we provide a set of simple procedures --- the M.U.P.P.E.T. Utilities --- which are designed to make it easier for you to solve physics problems with the computer. They handle the technical aspects of programming, which take so long to do and are so frustrating to get working properly. We also provide sample and demonstration programs with simple, minimal documentation that can allow even computer non-users to produce their own competent and useful programs.
In addition to the Utilities, this manual includes source codes for sample programs to solve a wide variety of physics problems. Since these programs have a fully structured and well-commented form, both teachers and students can easily extend and vary them. This opens many possibilities for creative science, even in introductory classes. These programs serve as examples to illustrate good programming techniques and can be used as templates for you to develop your own programs. The sample programs can also be used in their own right. Running them and observing how they behave can
The M.U.P.P.E.T. programming environment has been successfully used at the University of Maryland and at other colleges and universities. Through its use, we have introduced student programming in the introductory class for physics majors. As a result, we have seen a number of interesting and important changes occur.
- let students build intuitions by observing solutions to the same problems under a wide variety of conditions,
- let students gain experience with subjects that are normally considered to be mathematically too difficult (such as scattering from non-linear forces), and
- let teachers include modern topics such as chaos and quantum mechanics in their course.
We genuinely believe that the computer will soon play a major role in physics courses in all universities and that it will have an enormous effect on those courses. We hope you will find that M.U.P.P.E.T. is one good way to join the trend.
- We have been able to bring subjects into introductory courses that are normally delayed until much later.
- We have been able to train our students in a variety of important professional skills that are usually ignored until advanced classes.
- We have gotten introductory students involved in real science by having them design and carry out their own scientific research projects with the computer.
The M.U.P.P.E.T. Utilities is available from Physics Academic Software (phone 1-800-955-TASL for information or orders).
Edward F. Redish
Jack M. Wilson
Ian D. Johnston
This page prepared 23. March 1995 by