Laboratory Heaven

Laboratory heaven

Lab modernization grant provides students a world of opportunities

Einstein. Currie. Newton. All help teach in UW-Stout's physics lab. Those are some names of the 14 new computers in the recently modernized lab, one of three physics labs at UW-Stout.

With a $90,000 lab modernization grant from Stout, the physics department was able to update the lab and make the latest in computer technology available to students, allowing them to access information worldwide. The lab has been made more aestheically comfortable as well with carpeting, lower ceilings and lights to reduce glare. But 90 percent of the grant went to purchasing top notch high-tech equipment such as multimedia computers with sound cards and CD-ROMS, a color scanner, a color printer, a ceiling-mounted camera and video capture capability.

"We can take any video source and 'capture' or convert it to digital and store it in our computer," Jim Pejsa explains. These video clips can be used later in instruction modules. Pejsa, professor of physics, has been integrally involved in setting up the new lab.

A video of a basketball free throw could be "captured" and saved to use for a physics projectile motion lesson. It can be viewed in motion or frame by frame.

"We're excited about it," Pesja says. "It's a very advanced computing lab, especially as far as our Internet activity." He notes that the software the lab uses is highly sophisticated and connects easily to the "World Wide Web."

"We can provide our students with the absolute latest software available to enable them to access information worldwide," he says. Computer graphics, color, sound and animation draw students into an exciting world of science and technology that few would have dreamed possible 25 years ago.

The lab is also used to teach other classes within the department such as astronomy and meteorology. Students can get a satellite image of the latest weather maps anywhere in the world. Pejsa notes that Purdue University has an excellent weather processor that UW-Stout students use often.

Curriculum has been designed for the World Wide Web, and instructors can find teaching modules to use for students as well.

Lab reports are all done with computers, Pejsa says. Students should become very familiar with computer spreadsheets because they are ubiquitous in the business world. They are especially adaptable to physics lab reports.

"More and more is being produced on CDs in physics," Pejsa says. One CD can contain all the information from six physics textbooks with lots of room left over.

Pejsa, who has been in love with computers for 25 years, says he had always wanted to use them for teaching, but they just weren't powerful enough. "Now there are all kinds of ways to use them in teaching. We are doing some amazing things."

An object or a visual aide placed on a table beneath the ceiling-mounted camera can be viewed by students on four television screens located strategically in the lab.

Pejsa, who has been teaching for 20 years, says the new technology makes teaching even more exciting. "And we are constantly developing new curriculum to make use of this high technology," he says.

People in the UW-Stout physics department call their new lab "Laboratory Heaven."

Check out the Physics Home Page.

Outlook Fall '95