Physics students learn to use research-grade equipment in new lab

by University Communications,

Physics professors Michaela Kleinert, David Altman and Rick Watkins secured a three-year, $195,524 grant from the National Science Foundation to create a hands-on lab where sophomores and juniors can conduct their research.

The lab will give students a dedicated space to work using new, research-grade equipment. Their training will prepare them for a more rigorous and meaningful senior capstone project, and they’ll learn skills necessary to pursue a research career after graduation.

The lab, which will open in the spring, will be located in the basement of Collins Science Center.

Helping students transition from using teaching-grade to research-grade equipment is important because the equipment must be handled differently, Kleinert says.

For example, if students get a fingerprint on a teaching lens, that’s no big deal. Professors encourage their students to feel the lenses to understand their differences. But if students get a fingerprint on a research-grade lens, the repair cost tops $1,000.

Along with the space, the Physics Department is improving the lab components of “Modern Physics” at the sophomore level and “Advanced Techniques in Experimental Physics” at the junior level. Both courses will prepare senior physics majors for a full year of independent research in research labs as part of their capstone projects.

The Physics Department is also developing teaching modules for non-physics majors who need training on optics equipment for their research projects in biology, chemistry and other, related areas.