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American Physical Society New England Section Newsletter
Volume 19, No. 2, Fall 2013

Welcome to the 1st special topics section, the Advanced Lab Spot Light (ALSL – why not?). In this section of the Newsletter an advanced lab (sometimes loosely defined as upper division labs or labs that are ‘Beyond First Year, BFY’1) will be given the spot light. In subsequent issues, we hope to have NES APS and NES AAPT contributors join in the action by sending their own advanced/BFY lab ideas and we will highlight one of those in each NES APS Newsletter. If these ideas do not come in on their own, the editors will find you and your labs and bother you for a contribution!

The idea for the ALSL section is to give faculty/staff and students who build new or recreate already established advanced labs a forum to share their experiences, note resources and establish local contacts with the chance of running into each other, or maybe even seeing the actual lab in action, at a NES meeting. All this adds up to the healthy practice of dissemination of successful labs, practices, resources and ideas and to fortify social and professional ties between those working on advanced labs. The ultimate goal just described is in fact the central theme of at least two well-known and established organizations who take on this mission at the National Level; AAPT’s Advanced Labs Archive as well as the ALPhA organization.

As part of our inaugural ALSL we’ll take a moment to identify and cite web resources for the AAPT Advanced Lab and ALPhA organizations – we’ll also acknowledge a fantastic ALPhA Immersions Lab program that I took part in this past summer at CalTech – before moving on the 1st ALSL which is an Optical Trap that was built at Bridgewater State University based on a design in an American Journal of Physics (AJP) paper. Let’s start with the Advanced Labs Archive which is produced by the American Association of Physics Teachers and part of ComPARDRE.

Here is the web site and a brief description for the site: AAPT Advanced Labs:

“Advanced Labs intends to provide a central, comprehensive information base for college/university faculty who teach upper-level undergraduate laboratories. These include, but are not limited to, labs in electronics, condensed matter, optics, atomic physics, mechanics, and the like — and also researched-based, independent study labs. Accepted resources will be available by browsing or searching the collection by content topic or resource type.”

Further, “Advanced Labs is produced by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). It is a part of ComPADRE, the online collection of resources in physics and astronomy education, which itself is a part of the National Science Foundation-funded National Science Digital Library (NSDL).”

So let’s introduce ComPADRE, which is a digital library with tons of resources for us:

Here is how ComPADRE is described on its web site: “ComPADRE is filling a stewardship role within the National Science Digital Library for the educational resources used by broad communities in physics and astronomy. This partnership of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the American Institute of Physics/Society of Physics Students (AIP/SPS), and the American Physical Society (APS) helps teachers and learners find, and use, high quality resources through collections and services tailored to their specific needs.

Many authors and organizations are creating this rich educational content and faculty training opportunities, but wider accessibility and dissemination are needed. Authors are developing simulations, curricula, and multimedia for a wide range of topics and all education levels; science education researchers are developing research-based models of effective teaching and learning; organizations are providing workshops for teachers to improve their knowledge and skills; and students are communicating about learning physics. ComPADRE is supporting these author/user communities through discovery, organization, description, and sharing of their resources to achieve greater effectiveness for physics and astronomy education.”

Now we’ll introduce an independent organization that’s tremendously active in advanced labs, ALPhA. ALPhA:

From ALPhA’s web site: “The Advanced Laboratory Physics Association (ALPhA), founded in 2007, is an association of college and university faculty and staff dedicated to advanced experimental physics instruction. ALPhA is independent and separate from the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), the American Physical Society (APS), and the Optical Society of America (OSA), but works with these organizations to advance instruction.”

And now I can not only introduce ALPhA’s Laboratory Immersion Program but I can also speak from first-hand experience of how truly exceptional and worthwhile this program is. ALPhA Immersions:

Citing their web page: “ALPhA’s Laboratory Immersion experiences provide participants with two to three days of intensive hands-on work with a single advanced laboratory experiment. Enrollment is limited to two to three participants per experimental setup to ensure a confidence building experience. The Immersion program has been running since 2010 and over that time, 152 participants have learned a wide variety of new experiments to take back to their own institutions. A number of those faculty and instructional staff have taken part in multiple Immersions. Currently, the Immersions program is supported by a grant from the NSF.”

As I mention I took part in an ALPhA immersions program at CalTech this summer and can report back that it was one of the most productive advanced-lab experiences I have ever had. My CalTech hosts were as top-notch as they get and the material that I brought back to me to home place (Bridgewater) was over flowing. My original intentions were to have working experience with a lock-in and bring home lockin labs that matched ‘what they do at CalTech,’ which I did and we now have at BSU, but I also had the chance to interact with a larger group of exceptional advanced lab people from around the country and learn from them and my Caltech hosts, again, so much more and about so many more experiments and possibilities. I recommend the immersions highly, and note there are many focused topics for you to choose from. They are a very efficient use of your time!

Finally I’d like to note friends who seem to be likewise friends to just about everyone involved in the advanced labs community, and that’s Jonathan and Barbara Reichert plus all others in the TeachSpin group. They all champion, promote and bring to action all that ‘is advanced labs’ and are always at the heart of all that is good and progressive with the advanced labs, such as ALPhA and related activities of the APS FED and AAPT.


Here is how teachSpin describes itself: “TEACHSPIN is dedicated to the design, development, manufacture, and marketing of apparatus appropriate for laboratory instruction in physics and engineering. Our goal is to become the world’s premier designer, manufacturer and marketer of high quality, rugged, reliable, hands-on instruments that allow any school, no matter what the size or individual expertise of its faculty, to teach a wide variety of classic and modern experiments. All of our apparatus is designed and built by university physicists who have taught in the undergraduate lab and are well aware of the constraints of both student use and student laboratory budgets. Many of the advanced instruments give research quality data and lend themselves to open-ended upper-level projects. Several of our instruments have been built in collaboration with faculty who have used our apparatus and then worked with us to make experiments they had built for their own students available to colleagues world wide.”

Because they were specifically designed for teaching, these instruments promote conceptual understanding while providing quantitative data that is often of research quality. Although there is “No Resident Expert Required,” the experiments are challenging and satisfying for faculty as well as students. We in the physics community are not in the business of training technicians to manipulate equipment. Our mission is to educate physicists so that they will be able to create new instruments to explore new physics. No matter what you call it, Advanced Physics Lab, Upper Division Lab, Junior/Senior Lab, Modern Lab, Optics Lab or even Great Experiments in Physics, TeachSpin apparatus offers your faculty and students a wide array of exciting and challenging hands-on physics experiments.

Having made this introduction to the advanced labs let’s move on to the NES APS Newsletter Advanced Lab in the Spot Light (ALSL) with full appreciation of the significant place that the advanced labs and with appreciation for those who keep the experiments working and advancing forward.

1AAPT Advanced Labs and ALPhA both are co-sponsors of the BFY Labs Conferences which is, in fact, where the acronym ‘BFY’ was fist introduced. (It is pronounced as “Buffy.”)

Author: Edward Deveney, BSU. Thanks to Gabe Spalding, Illinois Wesleyan Univ. for insightful suggestions