Wolfgang Christian

Java Programming and Internet Technologies for Undergraduate Statistical Mechanics

Although it is somewhat of a cliche that the Internet is revolutionizing education, it is still not common to find physics simulations that make good use of Internet technologies. Physicists trained in procedural languages often are unfamiliar with object-oriented techniques and uninterested in page layout and are more interested in computational speed. However, Internet technologies have many advantages for curricular development and need not detract from the teaching of computational physics. A good example of this approach is the set of small scriptable Java applets-we call them Physlets—developed by students and faculty at Davidson College. Students are still taught to program using canonical techniques such as RK4. Finished assignments are embedded into HTML documents and published from a student's home page. These applets can then communicate with browsers by employing a scripting language such as JavaScript. Scripting allows one applet to be used in many different types of contexts thereby allowing the student to validate the correctness of the applet and to learn additional physics. The strengths and weaknesses of the Java programming language will be discussed and examples from statistical mechanics will be presented.

Partial funding for Physlets was obtained through NSF Grant DUE-9752365.

Updated 26 October 1999.