APS News

Advanced Lab Instructors Plan New Organization

A new association for advanced undergraduate physics laboratory instruction is being formed. At an initial session held at the 2007 March Meeting, participants shared plans and ideas for the organization.

The purpose of the new association will be to foster communication among advanced lab instructors and to provide some professional recognition for them.

“The group is trying to put the focus of the physics community back on advanced lab,” said Jonathan Reichert, who is playing a leading role in starting the organization. Reichert is the president of TeachSpin, a company that makes instruments for physics laboratory instruction. The new association was initially the idea of Krishna Chowdary, now at Bucknell University, said Reichert.

Most universities do offer advanced labs for undergraduates, though there are some schools that don’t.  

These courses can be difficult and time-consuming to teach, and they require expensive equipment. In some cases, physics departments have very limited resources for these classes. People who teach these courses may feel isolated and unrecognized, so contact with other advanced lab instructors could be helpful, said Reichert. Members of the association could advise each other on improving these courses, selecting and using appropriate equipment, and convincing departments to purchase equipment, said Reichert.

The new association will give TeachSpin an opportunity to market its products, Reichert says, but members of the association will benefit as well.

At the March Meeting, about 35 people attended a reception for advanced laboratory instructors sponsored by TeachSpin and the APS Forum on Education. About 25 of the attendees indicated they were interested in joining the new association, at a cost of $10. TeachSpin will also contribute to the founding of the association. Recichert said he would like at least thirty people to sign up before the association is officially launched.

The association might meet a couple times a year, Reichert predicts. Lab instructors could bring their equipment and share ideas on implementing laboratory experiences, he envisions.

Once the organization is launched, Reichert expects some of the new members will take charge of leading the new organization and any committees it may form.

Wolfgang Christian of Davidson College is one physicist who plans to join the organization. “I have been teaching advanced laboratory off and on for 25 years and I think it important to share experiences and to pass on knowledge to new faculty,” he said.

Another potential member is David Pullen of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He also looks forward to sharing ideas with members of the new organization.

 There has been some attention paid to freshman labs, he said, but not so much focus on advanced lab, and this organization can help change that. He hopes the new organization will work with APS and AAPT.

Potential members are being asked to vote on a name for the new organization; possibilities include: Advanced Laboratory Physics Association (ALPhA), Consortium for Advanced Laboratory Instruction (CALI), and Advanced Physics Laboratory Association (APLA). For more information, contact Jonathan Reichert (jreichert@teachspin.com).

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