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Virtual Immersion (via internet)

Amplifiers, interference, oscillations, and Johnson Noise;

Navigation in the Drosophilia larva; &

Drop pinch-off

Selected remote labs from “Experimental Physics: Principles & Practice for the Laboratory”

Dates:   July 21, 2021  to  July 23, 2021

Number of setups available: 6

Maximum number of participants: 6


In this Immersion, participants will learn how to teach several of the remote versions of labs from the new book “Experimental Physics: Principles and Practice for the Laboratory” (Taylor & Francis, 2020). The remote labs are based on a combination of interactive videos, sophisticated computer simulations, and in-depth data analysis. These labs are especially of use for teaching students who cannot come to campus, but are also helpful in providing all students a wider exposure to areas of experimental physics with zero equipment cost (other than the purchase of the book by each student).

The first day of the Immersion is devoted to techniques of low-noise electronic measurements, including the development of a noise model for commercial (or homebuilt) amplifiers, the physics of capacitively-coupled interference, and Johnson noise. The emphasis is on correct technique and correct interpretation of results, rather than on equipment construction. Low-noise electronic measurements are important in most cutting-edge research in physics and metrology, and in much of engineering. Immersion participants will perform the actual equipment (using loaned equipment) versions of experiments on amplifier basics and on Johnson noise, followed by doing the virtual versions. Participants will need a Windows or Mac computer with a full-size USB port.

The second day centers on a study of drop pinchoff. As a drop of water falls from a faucet, one body of liquid separates into two. This everyday event is actually a beautiful and accessible finite-time singularity that introduces several key topics in fluid and nonlinear physics. Optional experiments with dissolved polymer are an introduction to non-Newtonian fluids and polymer physics. Drop pinch-off itself is an area of active research, owing in part to its role in fuel injection, spray-coating, and inkjet printing. This one-day portion of the virtual Immersion will focus on: predicting the behavior from first principles; a walk-through of a working apparatus; exploring the camera triggering circuit in a simulator; measuring features of the provided experimental movies; and comparing to predictions. Participants will need a computer with FIJI software (free), their preferred plotting and curve-fitting software, and ~8 GB disk space to download the images.

On the third day, participants will learn how to teach a lab that uses insects (crawling fly larvae) to investigate how animals use a simple set of rules that modulate components of their behavior to achieve navigation in complex environments.  The main physics frame of reference for the lab is the random walk (diffusion), as students learn how randomness and purposeful motion combine to generate directed motion.  In particular, students build increasingly sophisticated Monte Carlo simulations of crawling trajectories and compare them to empirical data in order to identify fundamental components of behavior. Biology experiments, especially animal behavior, increasingly draw on more quantitative and analytic methods from physics. For example, learning about how very simple animals modulate behavior (this lab) can lead to important findings about how brains process information and organisms make decisions based on their surrounding environment.

Again, the virtual version of these experiments has zero cost, other than the purchase of the book by each student and the availability of a computer.

The version using actual apparatus for each day has the following equipment costs:

Day one: (About nine three-hour lab sessions for students) Total cost from $300 to $3500 per setup, depending on your preference for purchasing vs. building equipment. (Assumes you already have oscilloscope, signal generator, and computer.)

Day two: (about 8-10 three-hour lab sessions for students) Total cost of about $1600 per setup. (Assumes you already have a computer and oscilloscope.)

Day three: (about eight three-hour lab sessions for students) Total cost of about $600 per setup. (Assumes you already have a computer.)

Mentors:  Walter Fox Smith, Nathan Keim, Mason Klein 

Walter Fox Smith is the Paul and Sally Bolgiano Professor of Physics at Haverford College. His research centers on self-assembling electronics. He is the editor of “Experimental Physics: Principles and Practice for the Laboratory (Taylor & Francis, 2020) and the author of "Waves and Oscillations: A Prelude To Quantum Mechanics" (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Nathan C. Keim is an Associate Research Professor of Physics at the Pennsylvania State University (on leave from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo). He and his group study soft matter physics, including experiments to understand how disordered solids like mayonnaise and sand deform and flow. One particular focus is how these and other materials retain memories of how they were deformed in the past, that can later be read out. He is the author of the fluids chapter in “Experimental Physics…”

Mason Klein is an Assistant Professor of Physics and Biology at the University of Miami. His PhD is in experimental atomic physics, but since then he has become a behavioral neuroscientist, focusing on navigation and neural circuits in the Drosophila larva. He is the author of the biophysics chapter in “Experimental Physics…”

Please note that the Jonathan F. Reichert Foundation has established a grant program to help purchase apparatus used in Laboratory Immersions. Limitations and exclusions apply, but generally speaking the Foundation may support up to 40% of the cost of the required equipment.

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