APS News

New APS Award to Recognize Advanced Lab Instruction

At its November meeting, APS Council approved the Jonathan F. Reichert and Barbara Wolff-Reichert Award For Excellence in Advanced Laboratory Instruction. The Award, made possible by a donation from Jonathan Reichert and Barbara Wolff-Reichert, will honor outstanding achievement in teaching, sustaining, and enhancing an advanced undergraduate laboratory course or courses.

“It’s an award we feel very strongly about because… teaching an advanced lab is demanding, time-consuming, expensive and typically unrecognized by departments and deans,” Reichert said.

The annual award will provide recipients with a $5,000 stipend, as well as travel expenses to attend an APS meeting to receive the award, and to deliver a lecture about their work.  

Reichert and Wolff-Reichert have long been passionate advocates of the importance of undergraduate physics laboratories. The two started the company, TeachSpin, in 1992 to sell specialized educational equipment for undergraduate physics laboratories, an area of the market they saw in need of a supplier of robust advanced equipment like cosmic ray muon detectors and precision interferometers. In 2007, they founded the Advanced Laboratory Physics Association, or ALPhA, a society dedicated to advancing undergraduate physics laboratories. The October APS News carried a story about a recent ALPhA meeting in Philadelphia.

“There wasn’t a way for them to find each other,” Wolff-Reichert said. “This is a group of incredibly generous people who are anxious to make sure the next generation of experienced grad students has the hands-on expertise to really jump into the lab.”

Renee Diehl, professor of physics at Penn State and chair of the APS Forum on Education, said that having a good advanced laboratory program gives students a well rounded introduction to the diverse fields of physics.

“Experimental physics is a part of physics training that you just can’t get away from,” Diehl said. “I think it’s a really important component, and if you don’t have that, if you don’t have a background in learning how to tackle a problem, it shuts you out from a large number of the jobs that are out there.”

She added also that at many universities and colleges, the contributions of people running undergraduate physics labs often get overlooked by their departments.

“It’s this huge job, so Jonathan and Barbara had this idea that it would be really nice to honor the people that do this job because it’s sort of a thankless task,” Diehl said. “What we’re looking for is people who have done a fantastic job at doing that, making the lab modern and relevant to the students that are going though now; basically providing the best kind of preparation for their careers.”

The deadline for nominations is July 1, 2013 for the first award, which will be presented at either the March or April meeting the following year. A webpage describing the award and providing the opportunity to submit nominations should be available on the APS website by the beginning of January.

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Editor: Alan Chodos