Computational Modeling with Tychos

Tychos is a computational modeling tool for physics students that allows them to dip their feet in coding without a ton of overhead. I’ve been playing with it for a few days and am impressed. My previous physics coding experience is in vPython and Pyret, plus I’ve read a fair amount of colleagues’ work using other tools such as trinket.

If you’re new to the idea of computational modeling in physics, this document from Rebecca Vieyra provides some rationale. I like it because ideally, by coding a physics model my students can focus on concepts rather than manual calculations.

Here’s a short introduction to Tychos:

Intro Physics Simulations

I wrote the following with only a few hours’ experience in Tychos. Click each image to link to the live demo.

Projectile Motion

Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 8.01.12 PM

A note on those graphs — it’s fairly straightforward to turn them on and choose what variables get graphed. The ease of opening up a familiar graphical representation is a huge benefit over any other computational modeling tool  I’ve used (except possibly spreadsheets).

1D Acceleration Under a Constant Net Force

Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 8.26.17 PM.png

As far as I can tell, all vectors in Tychos is 2D. For the last two years teaching 9th grade physics, I’ve done almost no treatment of 2D physics. So right now, I’m left wondering if the presence of 2D everywhere is a feature or a bug (in terms of my needs, not an actual bug!).

I arrived at my model with a tiny bit of help from the Model a Force tutorial in Tychos’ documentation. Their tutorial came at it using change in momentum, but I wanted to approach through Newton’s 2nd Law because that’s the way my students will see it. The documentation, by the way, is well done and includes a number of tutorials that are right on target for high school physics teachers. Maybe that’s what I’m loving best about Tychos — it was developed with high school physics in mind.

Two Objects Colliding

This model is near and dear because last year, I assigned a project that included coding this very model to predict the collision of two constant velocity buggies. The students’ work was solid and it brought together all the representations we’d learned to work with to that point.

Here’s a simulation that would work for the project:

Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 8.45.24 PM.png

I find myself wanting (and failing) to interact with the graphs like Buggy Position — that little image is great for little more than a qualitative snapshot. My Tychos skills are only a few hours old, so maybe the feature I want exists and I don’t know how to get to it.

While I can adjust the length of simulation to estimate the answer, I know there must be a better way to find out the solution of when and where the buggies collide.


That’s all for now. I’ll keep exploring and share more with y’all soon. I hope back to school season OR last breath of summer season is treating you well. What have you been thinking about for this upcoming year?

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3 thoughts on “Computational Modeling with Tychos

  1. Hey Megan,

    Your comments and suggestions are great. I hope you continue to find Tychos easy to learn – both for you and your students. I agree that we need to improve on making the graphs a bit more interactive, and especially giving the students the ability to make the graphs larger would be better. Feel free to let us know what else you would like to see, and we can get working on that as soon as possible.

    I am a full time Physics teacher myself, so development is slow, but if you are willing to be patient, I can assure you that the goal of Tychos is to make it the best tool for teaching computational physics at the high school level, so please keep the suggestions coming!

  2. Thanks, Steve! We’re leaning hard on the constant velocity computational model in the upcoming week. It’s been a great tool and I greatly appreciate your work on the project! I’ll keep you posted on suggestions

  3. Hi Megan,

    Just wanted to update you and your readers. We just released an update to graphs based on your comments here. They now are resizable so that you can make them more readable, and we added tooltips to the data points so that you can see the actual plotted points – just need to hover your mouse over the plotted point. Let us know what you think. Cheers.

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