The dismal state of physics teaching in Pakistan and the region is no surprise. In particular, the sorry state of affairs in the teaching of experimental physics needs immediate attention.
Laboratory instruction is a multi-faceted discipline that requires the combination of diverse skills and training. For example, laboratory activity entails a deep understanding of underlying foundations of physical principles, an appreciation of the historical progression of great experiments and the ideas they generate, an acute sense of observation, patience and meticulous logging of activity and foremost, the capability to understand modern scientific tools which include measurement equipment, measurement devices, sensors and transducers. To cap it, the experimental activity generates the need for statistical analysis and culminates in the form of accurate, technical writing and presentation of results. It is by virtue of this combination of skills that experiments are considered difficult, painstaking and the contemporary physics student, and no doubt most teachers, have little idea of the many nuances involved.
Consequently, experiments are considered boring. Teachers and Faculty delegate instruction to untrained demonstrators who are poorly motivated, assessment is haphazard, students are engrossed in unnecessary details that are not central to the science and as a result are repelled from experiments.
This lack of training, and absence of model laboratories, necessitated the establishment of world-class physics instructional laboratories at the Syed Babar Ali School of Science and Engineering (SSE). Starting from labs meant to cater SSE’s own students, the Physlab as it is called, has now grown into a full-fledged teaching, research, and development centre that harbors fine programs in laboratory instruction. Ranging from formal courses to informal independent activities in experimental problem-solving, the laboratory is now framed in a suitable position for expansion and integration into a larger vision of dissemination of modern scientific knowledge.
It is with this background, we propose the establishment of the Centre for Experimental Physics Education (CEPE)سیپیas a national and regional centre.
The following are the Objectives of CEPE.
- Preparing a platform for student-driven experimental research in physics.
- Indigenous development of experiments for the laboratory and demonstrations for the classroom.
- Training students and teachers in world class experimental physics through summer semester long laboratory courses, concentrated lab immersion programs, BS and Masters projects, independent activity programs and workshops.
- Sharing expertise, resources and training in physics education with sister institutions and organizations both nationally and internationally.
- Publication of high quality scientific literature, through monographs, books and scientific articles.
- Dissemination of expertise through blueprints of equipment and experiments that can be replicated throughout the country in particular, as well as internationally.
Activities of the CEPE
The idea of the Physics Studio is to allow participants to design and initiate new lab projects, all based on basic physics. It is a two-week long dedicated program primarily meant for participants who have already gone through the Lab Immersion Program.How does the Physics Studio work? The participants will present an idea of their own or simply choose from the ones provided by the CEPE staff. Participants, while working in pairs on each project, will be expected to run through the complete cycle of:
- developing the idea,
- designing, building and assembling the equipment,
- performing the experiment and
- presenting their work.
The projects will culminate in the form of a public exhibition. While working under the Studio, the participants will have full access to the lab’s facilities and they will be closely mentored by staff. It is believed that the Studio, already being run at the Physlab, will become an innovative breeding ground of budding experimentalists and will help unleash their creativity, generally considered to be an alien trait for physicist students who could otherwise be good at analysis.
This is a one-week long interactive workshop meant for teachers and researchers who intend to make scientific equipment for their research or teaching. The participants will be hand-held through a series of practical training sessions such as (a) ‘story-boarding’ the equipment, (b) computer aided design and machining possibly involving turning, milling, fitting, plumbing, fastening operations and the use of a 3D printer and (c) finally testing, prototyping and documentation. The workshop will culminate in the form of a take-home project. The project can continue as a year-long Masters thesis project.
The 3D printer is the latest addition to the Physlab and is an important component of CEPE. This addition considerably enhances the scientific capabilities of experimental programs, making possible the manufacturing of high precision mechanical components for scientific research and development. The printer is proving to be an invaluable tool in which the only limitation is imagination. In the proposed workshop, participants will be able to make gadgets on this printer.Additionally, students will also be exposed to other relevant techniques such as (a) vacuum, (b) selection of appropriate materials, (c) safety and (d) circuit board design and manufacturing (on a CNC routing machine available with the Physlab).
The staff at the CEPE would be allowed to take Masters thesis projects and summer researchers from around the country. These will be year-long projects for Masters (MS/MPhil) students or season-long summer researchers registered in their respective institutions. These projects can be extensions of the “how to build scientific equipment” endeavor or stand-alone projects in the design and development of new scientific apparatus and experiments. These experiments will demonstrate innovative ideas in the investigating of physical phenomena. The projects can be supervised on premises of LUMS as well as other institutions.
We propose the initiation of periodic day-long teacher training workshop on the preparation and inclusion of practical demonstrations inside the classroom. Currently, the Physlab is constantly developing novel, interesting and exciting demonstrations to be used by physics teachers at the LUMS SSE, other universities in Pakistan as well as for schools and colleges. Given below is a non-exhaustive list of classroom demonstrations that will be directly incorporated into the CEPE.
Click here to see the list of our classroom demonstrations.
We propose the holding of a regular yearly day-long meeting on Physics Entrepreneurship which will be with the collaboration of the Suleman Dawood School of Business and LUMS Centre for Entrepreneurship. The goal is the training of the participants of business practices and presentation of case studies in physics investigations going commercial as well as examples of academia-industry linkages. This initiative builds upon Physlab’s successes in sharing its expertise through technology transfer and associated teacher training for various institutes inside Pakistan.