Some impressions

The first task: discussing the parameters to create the snail pattern

The second task: creating colorful patterns using a simulation of pendulums oscillating around magnetic pivots

Schnupperuni Physik: Beautiful things one can do with theoretical physics

High school students discover the beauty of physics

For two days during the current spring break, the halls and corridors of the physics department in Cologne were bustling with female pupils actively participating in Schnupperuni workshops, titled “Physics is Fun.” Kicking off with the question “How does a snail’s shell get its patterns?” Christoph Berke, postdoc in the group of Computational Condensed Matter Physics led by Simon Trebst at the Theoretical Physics Institute in Cologne, engaged the pupils in a short simulations workshop. Here, they learned how theoretical physicists experiment with their ideas using simulations.

In the first task of the workshop, the pupils reconstructed the complex patterns seen on a snail’s shell by repeatedly aligning cells of two color patterns (light and dark), applying simple rules on a computer program.

For the second task, the pupils were captivated by the colorful patterns pendulums create while oscillating around magnetic pivots. Some students reached out to their phones to record the patterns that 100 pendulums created on the screen, dancing simultaneously by following simple rules controlled by a few input parameters.

In the final task, the pendulums were now able to draw digital paintings by switching the paint colors as they touched small balls on the screen. The resulting paintings were rich in patterns and colors, obtained again by controlling a few rules and parameters.

Indeed, there is beauty in breaking down the complex patterns in nature and using computational physics to regenerate them. Schnupperuni gives prospective students the chance to explore the potentials of becoming a physicist. The program offered by the zdi-Schülerlabor of the Faculty for Mathematics and Natural Sciences aims to attract female pupils in the early phase of high school (9th-10th grades) to study physics.


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