NES APS special topics section: Advanced Lab Spot Light

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 Advanced Physics Laboratory from A-Z

I just Googled advanced physics lab and got 50,100,000 hits! When I changed lab to labs(to rule out laboratory) I got 7,270,000 hits. And using laboratory instead of labsgenerated 34,000,000 hits. As with all such searches, not all hits are useful or relevant, and there is some duplication. So what’s the point? Very simply, the number of hits that were right on target is impressive, and sufficient to conclude that advanced lab courses are being taught at many colleges and universities.

The Advanced Lab: Hallmark of an Outstanding Undergraduate Program

For high school seniors interested in majoring in physics, the number of prestigious schools offering an undergraduate degree can be overwhelming. What schools should they apply to? What factors should the teachers and counselors consider as they evaluate these programs? Many colleges and universities have distinguished reputations, but these reputations are almost always based on their research and graduate programs. Which ones have undergraduate programs that nurture and develop undergraduate students?

What happened to the Advanced Lab?

With all the attention that the physics community has paid to Physics Education Research in introductory courses, to K-12 teacher training, to class demonstrations, to hands-on learning, and to various other areas, I am troubled by the fact that our profession has neglected the development of advanced experimental physics education. Yes, undergraduate research participation has become a popular program at many colleges and universities, but I am concerned that these research experiences are practical only for a small fraction of physics majors and usually only for those in their senior year. It is difficult to design a research experience that is appropriate for an undergraduate physics major. The successful few are given high-profile publicity, as if they were the norm.

Is There a Future for the Advanced Lab?

Have we created a kind of myth that a multi-topic advanced laboratory experience is no longer a meaningful bridge between introductory physics laboratories and experimental physics research? How tempting it is to engage our students in “real” research projects even in their junior year, to have them experience discovery, get their names on publications, and even have a chance at national recognition from the APS. Everybody wins! Or do they?