Well, I was wrong about my simple harmonic oscillator (SHO). It’s just an oscillator. But why?
A simple harmonic oscillator experiences a restoring force proportional to distance. For instance, a mass hanging on a spring is a simple harmonic oscillator because the force the mass feels is directly proportional to its distance from some resting position. The farther down you pull the mass, the greater the force the spring will apply to the mass. In other words, the harder you yank on a spring, the harder it yanks back. The same isn’t true for the experiment I created. It doesn’t matter how high the cube is from the ground, it feels the same force of gravity. So, it’s an oscillator, just not a SHO.
But a lot of good has come out of this mistake. It actually generated a nice discussion on reddit, in which it seems we figured out that the cube is being damped in a slightly odd way.
Even if the physics in Source don’t perfectly mimic real life, running experiments gives students a chance to apply what they’ve learned to identify discrepancies. Asking, “what’s wrong with this picture?” is just as valid a lab question as any other. Answering it requires a strong working knowledge of actual physics, a good experiment, and thorough data analysis.