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Instructional Facilities


The department occupies space spread across four floors of Marshall W. Alworth Hall. This building is shared with the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department (ECE). The total space available to the department is approximately 15,100 sq. ft. This space includes 4800 sq. ft. of classroom and instructional laboratory space and 3630 sq. ft. of research lab space. Designated offices for faculty and teaching assistants total approximately 1900 sq. ft. The remaining space is devoted to support purposes (department office, lecture demonstration and lab prep rooms, and shops). A large portion of this space (about 2300 sq. ft.) is taken by the shop areas.

Most of the department's activities are housed on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the building. The central core of the 2nd floor houses introductory physics labs and a lab prep room. These lab rooms usually double as classrooms for upper-division physics courses, because there are few classrooms nearby. The balance of the 2nd floor is occupied by classrooms, labs, and offices for Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The bulk of department activity is housed on the third floor. Faculty, departmental, and teaching-assistant offices are here. A group of three inter-connected rooms is used for solid- state physics and optics research by Sydor, with another lab and the darkroom devoted to environmental physics. A computational lab provides computing resources and network access for physics majors and other students enrolled in computational physics courses or engaged in research projects. Some space is set aside as study space for undergraduate majors. Two additional rooms are used for upper-division laboratories for electronics and modern physics. One room is used for Habig's particle astrophysics lab. Five rooms on this floor are occupied by ECE labs; of these, one will eventually become Gran's lab.

The department has a presence on the ground floor as well. Physics space on this floor includes a machine shop and an adjacent student shop. There is a lecture demonstration preparation room, located behind the large lecture hall, that serves the introductory/general physics courses. Ground-floor space is also used to house additional research efforts in condensed matter physics. Low-temperature and scanning-tunneling-microscopy experiments are located in two ground-floor labs that provide comparatively vibration-free environments.

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Lower Division Labs

Lower division instructional labs serve the algebra-based and the calculus-based introductory sequences, Phys 1001-1002 and Phys 2011-2012, respectively. Lab sections meet weekly for 2 hours with a maximum of 18 students working in teams of two to three students. Lab sections are taught by graduate teaching assistants, with undergraduates hired to handle a few sections on occasion. Roughly 25 lab sections are taught each semester among these four introductory courses. Set-up and routine maintenance of equipment for these courses is the responsibility of the department's lab services coordinator, Matt Nixon. Overall supervision of the teaching assistants and introductory lab infrastructure is handled by Maps.

For the past several years dedicated equipment and technology fees (``tech fees'') have been paid by students each semester. A majority of these fees have been allocated to departments within the College weighted primarily by number of majors and by student credit hours. As a result of the tech fees, financial resources have been available to modernize labs for substantial parts of the introductory physics sequences. Since the majority of funds allocated to the Physics Department come from the service courses, most expenditures so far have been directed at the labs for the two introductory sequences. In requests for additional allocations of fees held in reserve each year, the department has been successful in getting a proportionate share for equipment destined for upper-level labs serving physics majors, minors, and future physics teachers.

The modernization of introductory labs has focused on incorporating computer-based data acquisition and analysis techniques into the introductory sequences. The last of four lab rooms on the second floor was equipped in spring of 2005 so that each lab table is now equipped with a Windows-based computer and software for data collection, graphing, and analysis. The four lab rooms are served by a stand-alone wireless network. This network has remained independent of the campus network to reduce security concerns. The wireless network provides access to a printer in each room and to a common file server. The server was recently migrated from Novell Netware to a Linux-based system. Data acquisition is accomplished with Vernier's LabPro interface, which accepts a variety of sensors, and Logger Pro and Graphical Analysis software packages. Available sensors include ultrasonic range finders, strain-gauge force sensors, photogates, accelerometers, thermometers, Hall effect probes, photometers, and current probes.

To make use of these tools, many new experiments were developed. Other existing experiments were revised to take advantage of new analysis tools. New lab manuals were written. The first semester of each sequence now makes extensive use of computer-based data acquisition particularly using ultrasonic range finders and force sensors. Whereas previous generations of experiments often relied on finding changes between easily measured initial and final values only, experiments now can follow processes virtually continuously, and multiple runs with varying parameters can be collected and analyzed more easily. The introduction of computer-based tools has increased the emphasis on graphical presentation of data and on the interpretation and extraction of experimental parameters from graphs. Labs early in both sequences still call for students to do some graphing and analysis by hand before making wide use of fancier tools. Many labs in the second semesters use mostly conventional electrical meters for circuit measurements, but make more use of graphical analysis than done previously.

Tech fees have also allowed other conventional laboratory equipment to be purchased for the introductory sequences. For example, both sequences now have sets of air-tracks available for use, and this allows better phasing of experiments with lecture content, since they are no longer a shared resource. These are used for labs about kinematics and dynamics, and in collision studies. Other upgrades, for example analog and digital multimeters, and expansions, such as the increased use of lasers in optics experiments, have been made.

Upper Division Labs

The primary upper division laboratory courses are Phys 2033 (Experiments in Classical and Quantum Physics), which is intended to accompany Phys 2021 and Phys 2022 and is offered annually, Phys 3061 (Instrumentation), and Phys 5061 (Experimental Methods). The latter two have a lecture component and form a year-long sequence offered in alternate years. Phys 5061 also is one of a set of electives graduate students may choose emphasizing applied aspects of physics. These labs are located in MWAH 347 and MWAH 379. The rooms are connected, so equipment and space can be easily shared.

MWAH 347 houses experiments for Phys 2033, which make use of a mixture of commercial and custom apparatus. These include two Geiger-based nuclear counting experiment stations, a gamma-ray spectroscopy system with scintillator detector and a PC-based multi-channel analyzer; electron charge-to-mass ratio; a Pasco photoelectric effect system; optical and atomic spectra measurements with a monochromator; a Pasco interferometer system; resistive and inductive measurements of superconductivity in high Tc materials, and a basic pulsed NMR system from TeachSpin. Four of the experiment stations are equipped with PCs that make use of proprietary software, Vernier's Logger Pro, or LabVIEW, as required by the particular experiment.

Instrumentation (Phys 3061) and Experimental Methods (Phys 5061), operating in MWAH 379, make use of four stations, each equipped with a programmable digital oscilloscope (HP54602), breadboard, programmable function generator (HP33120A), and Fluke digital multimeter. Each station also has a PC outfitted with a data acquisition card (NI PCI-1200), GPIB interface (NI GPIB-PCI), and LabVIEW. Students begin the sequence breadboarding basic analog circuits, progress through digital circuits and data conversion devices, to arrive at high level control of experiments with computers. An assortment of other GPIB-programmable instruments is available, including multimeters, additional signal generators, a frequency counter, two additional digital scopes, and a lock-in amplifier (Ithacao 3962). A Franck-Hertz system has provided a training ground for learning PC-based data acquisition and control. A scanning digital monochromator (Mini-chrom) was recently purchased with tech fees to add the ability to study light emitted by the Franck-Hertz tube.

The Computational Physics Laboratory in MWAH 397 has four Athlon-based dual-boot workstations with Scientific Linux that are fully networked and stocked with useful applications, such as Mathematica and MatLab. They are supported by a file and print server and a laser printer. There is also a robust color ink-jet printer available to students on request. The room is arranged to permit informal lectures in support of the lab components of computational courses. Access cards are provided to any Physics student who can make use of the equipment.

Machine Shop

The physics machine shop, located on the ground floor, is equipped with several lathes, a milling machine, various saws, drill presses and other basic equipment and tools. The laboratory services coordinator, in addition to the primary responsibilities of laboratory set-up, serves as department machinist and electronics repair person and provides occasional shop support for other departments on campus. The department has a modest student shop adjacent to the main shop, which is equipped with two lathes, a small mill, drill press and hand tools. For demanding machining tasks the department has access to the machine shop off-campus at the University's nearby Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) and to the state-of-the-art facilities of the physics shop on the Minneapolis campus.

Additional equipment is available expressly for research. Other SCSE departments also have instruments and equipment that can be used by the Physics Department.

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Last modified on 07/01/13 03:49 PM
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