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ERIC Number: EJ1124229
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2017-May
Pages: 29
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: EISSN-1305-8223
Thought Experiments in Teaching Free-Fall Weightlessness: A Critical Review and an Exploration of Mercury's Behavior in "Falling Elevator"
Balukovic, Jasmina; Slisko, Josip; Cruz, Adrián Corona
EURASIA Journal of Mathematics, Science & Technology Education, v13 n5 p1283-1311 May 2017
Different "thought experiments" dominate teaching approaches to weightlessness, reducing students' opportunities for active physics learning, which should include observations, descriptions, explanations and predictions of real phenomena. Besides the controversy related to conceptual definitions of weight and weightlessness, we report another controversy regarding the position of the person that weighs herself or himself in a freely-falling elevator, a "thought experiment" commonly used for introducing the concept of weightlessness. Two XIX-century "thought experiments", one from America and one from Russia, show that they have a long tradition in physics teaching. We explored experimentally a "thought experiment" that deals with the behavior of a mercury drop in a freely-falling elevator. Our experimental results show that the mercury drop neither took the expected spherical shape nor performed oscillatory motions predicted by theory. Teachers should encourage students to enrich active learning of weightlessness by thinking how to test experimentally the answers to some conceptual questions, a subclass of "thought experiments".
EURASIA. Sehit Osman Avci Mah. Malazgirt 1071 Cad. No:48/30, Etimesgut, Ankara, TR06796, Turkey. Tel: +90-312-202-8192; Fax: +90-312-222-8483; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research; Information Analyses
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A