GasLab: A Model-based Toolkit and Curriculum for Exploring Ideal Gases and Statistical Mechanics

 Models   Curriculum   Papers   Researchers

 Models The GasLab project was designed to help students visualize and explore the physical behavior of an ideal gas and relate the idealized microscopic molecular rules to the measurable observable quantities that emerge. This set of models simulates the behavior of gas molecules in a closed container under various conditions. It was one of the original Connected Mathematics StarLogoT models (under the name GPCEE) and is now ported to StarLogoT as part of the Connected Mathematics "Making Sense of Complex Phenomena" Modeling Project. The GasLab models are examples of "extensible models". They are basic seed models that allow students to "peek under the hood" of the model and see how it works. Interested students can then modify the underlying model, creating an experiment or a new variant of the GasLab model. The GasLab models are all variations of the basic model called Gas-in-a-Box. All variations use the same basic Newtonian (billiard ball) rules for what happens when gas molecules collide. Each model has different features in order to show different aspects of the behavior of gases. Many other extensions of the core Gas-in-a-Box model have been explored by students.

• Gas In A Box shows the basic model and plots the speed and energy distribution in an ideal gas.
• Single Collision shows the collision of two molecules, so that the underlying rules (conservation of energy and momentum) can be studied.
• Isothermal Piston looks at pressure, volume and temperature of a gas under a piston.
• Two-Gas has two chambers and two kinds of molecules that can mix.
• Atmosphere imposes a gravitational field on the gas.
• Adiabatic Piston has a piston with mass that can move up or down in response to its weight and the counterbalancing collisions of the gas molecules. Mechanical energy thus passes to and from the gas.
• Maxwell's Demon demonstrates a famous thought experiment that relates the concepts of energy and information.

Other GasLab models available and in process:

• Mean Free Path explores measuring the average distance between gas molecule collisions and how it is affected by other factors such as temperature and density.
• Heat Engine combines several features to explore a heat pump moving through the Carnot cycle.

GasLab Curriculum

A series of Investigations to guide the use of GasLab in the classroom is under development. This is an interactive, hands-on curriculum that will enable teachers and students in middle school and high school to work easily with GasLab models in a variety of school settings - as a class or in small groups. It can be used either to structure demonstrations and discussion, or as student worksheets, or to guide students in extending the models as independent projects. Click here to see an overview of the material and a list of the Investigations. The Investigations material is password protected. Write to us ( feedback ) for the password and with any comments or suggestions you have!

Papers

 Two versions of the original "GasLab" paper: Book version - Wilensky, U. (1999).GasLab: an Extensible Modeling Toolkit for Exploring Micro- and Macro- Views of Gases. In Roberts, N., Feurzeig, W. & Hunter, B. (Eds.) Computer Modeling and Simulation in Science Education. Berlin: Springer Verlag. expanded Journal version - Wilensky, U. (2003). Statistical Mechanics for Secondary School: The GasLab Modeling Toolkit. International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning, Special Issue on agent-based modeling 8(1), 1-4 . Two other papers about GasLab: Wilensky, U., Hazzard, E & Froemke, R. (1999). An Extensible Modeling Toolkit for Exploring Statistical Mechanics. Proceedings of the Seventh European Logo Conference - EUROLOGO '99, Sofia, Bulgaria. Wilensky, U. & Resnick, M. (1999). Thinking in Levels: A Dynamic Systems Perspective to Making Sense of the World. Journal of Science Education and Technology. Vol. 8 No. 1.

Researchers

Uri Wilensky
Director of the Center for Connected Learning and Principal Investigator of the GasLab project.

Ed Hazzard
Curriculum Developer on the GasLab project.

Robert Froemke
Complexity Programmer at the Center for Connected Learning and Researcher on the GasLab project.

Consultants to the Project

Joshua Mitteldorf, University of Pennsylvania

Walter Stroup, University of Texas