Slide 1

Major Curricular Roles for typical Ad Lab courses,
John Brandenberger
At present, what major curricular roles are played by typical
advanced lab courses? Here are 15:
– Role 1: Provide students with major excursions into experimental physics to
let them experience the satisfaction of conducting solid, no-holds-barred
– Role 2: Exploit important, landmark experiments to reinforce basic
principles, illuminate major topics, and generate student engagement.
– Role 3: Acquaint students with modern instrumentation and technologies
(e.g. NIM modules, MCAs, lock-ins, and Labview, but minimal amounts of
turn-key equipment).
– Role 4: Introduce students to the safe use of radioactive sources, lasers,
machine tools, vacuum systems, cryogenics, and other equipment that entail
some risk.
At present, what major curricular roles are played by typical
advanced lab courses (continued)?
– Role 5: Require students to explain experiments at several levels, deliver
APS-style talks, write PRL-like papers, and become familiar with physics
– Role 6: Urge students to extend experiments to higher levels by introducing
changes here and new twists there.
– Role 7: Emphasize experiments that promptly yield data, offer instant
gratification to change, and eventually provide clear results that beg
comparison to theory.
– Role 8: Reinforce student understanding of uncertainty and the use of words
such as precision, accuracy, discrepancy, resolution, and systematic error.
– Role 9: Help students learn how to approach new experiments and/or enter
new fields in efficient and expeditious ways.
At present, what major curricular roles are played by typical
advanced lab courses (continued)?
– Role 10: Foster student attitude that carefully acquired experimental results
are very important — every bit as important as certain theoretical findings.
– Role 11: Require students to work in teams and assume leadership roles in
planning, executing, trouble-shooting, and communicating the results of
– Role 12: Encourage students to develop habits of posing insightful questions
about experiments and proceeding to seek informative answers.
– Role 13: Acquaint students with sources and uses of reference data
(including the appreciation that most data are experimentally acquired).
– Role 14: Help students develop overviews of a few active areas of
contemporary physics so as to let them judge their pros and cons.
– Role 15: Require students to calibrate, debug, and test equipment, circuits,
and code so as to learn basic strategies for pursuing such activities.
What new curricular roles should we be
considering for ad labs? Here is one:
• New Role 1. Encourage scientific innovation among students by urging
them to explore changes or rearrangements in their experiments so as to
– Identify revised targets for experimental investigation.
– Incubate greater creativity, enthusiasm, comfort level, independence,
and confidence in future US scientists and engineers.
– Help arrest slippage in US competitiveness worldwide as described in
“Rising Above the Gathering Storm” and the “2007 America Competes
– Improve the transparency and reliability of their experiments.
– Reduce systematic shortcomings of experiments.
[Physicists at Lawrence University are pursuing this objective quite aggressively with
support from the NSF CCLI program.]
• New Roles 2 and 3. Suggestions from conferees?

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