According to the principle of equivalence, it is impossible to distinguish between gravity and inertial forces that a noninertial observer experiences in his own frame of reference. For example, let’s consider an elevator in space that is being accelerated in one direction. An observer inside it would feel as if there was gravity force pulling him toward the opposite direction. The same holds for a person in a stationary elevator located in Earth’s gravitational field. No experiment enables us to distinguish between the accelerating elevator in space and the motionless elevator near Earth’s surface. Strictly speaking, when the gravitational field is non-uniform (like Earth’s), the equivalence principle holds only for experiments in elevators that are small enough and that take place over a short enough period of time (Fig. 1). However, performing an experiment in an elevator in space is impractical. On the other hand, it is easy to combine both forces on the same observer, i.e., gravity and a fictitious inertial force due to acceleration. Imagine an observer in an elevator that falls freely within Earth’s gravitational field. The observer experiences gravity pulling him down while it might be said that the inertial force due to gravity acceleration g pulls him up. Gravity and inertial force cancel each other, (mis)leading the observer to believe there is no gravitational field. This study outlines our implementation of a self-construction idea that we have found useful in teaching introductory physics students (undergraduate, non-majors).

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