Toni Feder’s news story “Undergraduate labs lag in science and technology” (Physics Today, April 2017, page 26) is a welcome analysis of the challenges facing advanced undergraduate physics laboratories and current efforts to provide effective solutions for undergraduate physics programs at US colleges and universities.

The Advanced Laboratory Physics Association (ALPhA) sponsors a laboratory immersion program in which physics faculty receive three days of dedicated instruction and hands-on experience with modern advanced undergraduate physics experiments. The goal is to provide enough training so that participants can implement the experiments at their own institutions.

Since the inception of the program, I have participated in nine immersions. Each was excellent, and I have implemented at least one experiment—and in one case, five—from each immersion I attended. The topics have been fascinating, and they included single-photon tests of quantum mechanics, external-cavity diode lasers, laser-induced fluorescence, Compton scattering, precision laser interferometry, Fourier methods, and saturated absorption spectroscopy.

At my small undergraduate institution—10 physics majors per year on average—the primary obstacle I faced in implementing those experiments was locating funds to purchase the equipment. Fortunately, the Jonathan F. Reichert Foundation started the ALPhA immersions equipment grant program, which has been a godsend to me and my students. Its support has allowed me to acquire a Leybold x-ray diffraction apparatus, a TeachSpin diode laser spectroscopy instrument, a Stanford Research lock-in amplifier, and a TeachSpin Fourier Methods system.

As a direct result of the efforts of ALPhA and the Reichert Foundation, I have implemented 13 advanced undergraduate physics experiments at my institution. Additionally, I proposed a new course, Advanced Laboratory in Physics, which was offered for the first time in the fall of 2017.

Some friends and colleagues suggest that after 30 years of professorial experience I should be thinking about retiring. I disagree. I am more excited now than ever, because I see my students’ enthusiasm as they perform the new experiments. I look forward to many more years in the best job on the planet.

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Physics Today
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