Any history of this Foundation must begin with the creation of TeachSpin and the avocation that became an enduring passion. In 1992, in the basement of 9 Tower Dr., Maplewood, NJ, Norman Jarosik, Alex Eisen, George Herold, and Jonathan Reichert began the construction of a commercial tabletop pulsed nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer specifically designed for teaching. We delivered the first unit to Carnegie Mellon University in the spring of 1994. The company has grown over these 20 years. With a staff of about eleven full-time associates and eighteen distinctive experiments, TeachSpin now sees itself as the premier manufacturer of rugged, reliable, hands-on, advanced laboratory apparatus. Along with bringing modern physics experiments into advanced laboratories all over the world, the company has helped create ALPhA, the Advanced Laboratory Physics Association, supported regional as well as major topical conferences, and underwritten an American Physical Society award for student development of advanced laboratory apparatus.
With TeachSpin now an integral part of the physics community, it became important to find a way to secure the future of both the company, and its mission of supporting advanced laboratory instruction, long after its founders were no longer available.
After several years of discussing, consulting, planning, and learning the rules for operating a not-for-profit foundation, a solution was evolved that required a major restructuring of the entire enterprise. On May 9, 2014, after an almost two-year wait, the Internal Revenue Service approved our application to create the “Jonathan F. Reichert Foundation” as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit private foundation that would be allowed 100% ownership of the for-profit corporation TeachSpin Inc. The gift of TeachSpin Inc. to the Foundation by Jonathan was accepted by the Board on September 14, 2014. By donating TeachSpin Inc. to the Foundation, Jonathan began the process of making sure that these two institutions will have a robust future existence. But, for the Foundation to fulfill its potential, its resources must extend well beyond the ownership of the company. With his contribution of an additional $1.1 million, Jonathan has begun the development of a substantial permanent endowment for the Foundation. We hope to see the Foundation’s assets reach its goal of $10 million to secure its future as a transforming force for the improvement of experimental physics education in the United States.
“Enhancing advanced laboratory physics instruction” is both the tagline and the mission of the Jonathan F. Reichert Foundation. But what does this mean in practice? And why this focus on the advanced lab? Here is our “because”!
The number of undergraduates in physics programs in the United Sates may be small compared to other sciences, but these students make a disproportionate contribution to the scientific, technological, and industrial progress that has kept this country the leader in these areas. The quality of the experimental component of a physics students’ education plays a crucial part in keeping this country at the forefront of high-tech and scientific manufacturing and development. Mastering essential modern experimental tools, such as a lock-in amplifier, spectrum analyzer, multichannel analyzer, and digital oscilloscope, is an important part of this education. Continuously refreshing the canon of undergraduate experiments by bringing modern discovery into the advanced laboratory is also crucial in preparing students to engage in cutting edge discovery.
In our opinion, there is absolutely no substitute for a wide-ranging (many areas of physics), hands-on, in-depth, advanced laboratory program that is a part of every physics student’s education. Participation in the research program of an individual faculty member in a particular area of physics, an “undergraduate research experience”, can be exciting and motivating. But it is in the advanced lab that undergraduate students have the opportunity to experience experimental physics in many areas, including some that are not represented in the research of the local faculty. This kind of overarching exposure is a vital component of an undergraduate physics education. Currently, there is no government or other private foundation support for advanced laboratory programs such as these. And it is particularly important to provide such support for schools with limited financial resources. Right along with the larger, richer, institutions, these are the feeder schools of American students into our graduate programs; students who can contribute to science and technological excellence here in the United States.
To help fill this gap, the Foundation is working to create a permanent endowment that will continually “enhance” the advanced laboratories for the foreseeable future. Our goal is to create an endowment, and a flow of contributions, capable of providing substantial help in purchasing the advanced laboratory apparatus necessary to keep us competitive on the world stage. The Foundation will also support faculty development programs that allow physicists to teach advanced laboratories in areas outside of their own expertise. The Foundation will find ways to honor and support the faculty who create, maintain, and modernize these laboratory programs. It will also support the efforts of organizations like ALPhA that have formed a healthy, productive network of faculty, which enhances both the creativity and effectiveness of its individual practitioners.
This is an ambitious agenda, no question! Without high goals, worthwhile results won’t follow. This Foundation, with your support, can and will make a difference in this country. That’s a goal worth pursuing.