Physics in the Arts

Seminar Leader:
Paul Heiney


This seminar explores the role that physics and related sciences play in various forms of artistic expression. According to the interests of the participants, topics may include:

* The physics (and mathematics) of music: why are musical instruments designed the way they are?
* The physics (and chemistry) of painting: pigments, colors, and the spectrum.
* The physics (and engineering) of sculpture and architecture: what are the practical constraints on making a statue or building?
* The physics of movies, especially cartoons: when, where, and why are the rules broken?
* The physics of dance, especially ballet: how do ballerinas appear to defy gravity?

In each case, we explored the physical principles underlying that particular medium. We then moved on to discuss whether it “matters”. Does understanding the physics principles behind the sound of clarinet destroy the magic or enhance our appreciation? Does an understanding of Newton’s Laws help a dancer or just get in the way? These curriculum units will be most appropriate for teachers of Physical Science or Physics looking for different approaches to their classroom activities, but may also be useful for teachers in the arts looking for a deeper understanding of the scientific basis for their fields.

Unit TitleAuthor


Can You Hear Me Now? – Exploring the Science of Sound

Rita Sorrentino
Keywords: acoustics, computer science, elementary school, hearing, language arts, medium, physics, Science, sound, speech, Technology, vibrations, wave motion

Atomic Structure

Stuart Surrey
Keywords: atom, Chemistry, college prep, elementary particles, Greek philosophers, laboratory experiments, Math, physicists

Physics of Music: Making Waves in a Science Classroom

Rosalind Echols
Keywords: hip-hop generation, motion, Physical Science, physics, Science, sound, waves

Cartoon Animation and Films in Literature: Intrinsic to Physics

Bonnee L. Breese
Keywords: cartoon animation, English Language Arts, film, film editing, literacy terms, Making connections, Math, physics, physics vocabulary, Science

Learning Physics and Math: An Aesthetic Approach

Moses B. Jackson
Keywords: 10th grade, 9th grade, Art, arts, create, dance, discover, explore, high school math, Math, Music, physics, think

Learning Science through the Sound of Music

Vijayalakshmi Karri
Keywords: 9th grade, amplitude, frequency, human perception of sound, Music, music room, nature of waves, Physical Science, Science, science lab, Sound of Music, sound waves

Kinematics (Equations of Motion)

Krishan L. Wadhwa
Keywords: acceleration, deceleration, diagrams, equations of motion, Graphs, Kinematics, motion of objects, Physical Science, physics, speed, vectors, velocity

Mathematics Through the Eyes of Physics

Anne Cherian
Keywords: 11th grade, acceleration, displacement, distance, Kinematics, linear equations, Math, motion, motion of objects, physics, quadratic equations, speed, time, velocity