Undergrad Lab Experience to be Enhanced by NSF Grant

October 22, 2013 | 9:21 a.m.

By Suzanne McInroy, Director of Communications

Physics professor Keith Stein was awarded a $143,557 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

Physics professor Keith Stein recently was awarded a $143,557 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to support his project “Collaborative Research: Inspiring undergraduate engagement in advanced laboratories through web-based interactive video.”

For a few decades now, the physics department at Bethel has allowed students to work in open-ended advanced labs, or non-traditional labs with projects based on real-world scenarios, Stein explains. In traditional labs, lab assignments are commonly written such that every student is supposed to do the same exercises to get a known result – something Stein classifies as “cookie cutter.” In the Bethel labs, students work on more extensive projects without known solutions, he says. “They are driven by a scientific question and it involves real-world experience. It is a creative learning experience that involves genuine problem solving.”

The NSF-funded project will allow Stein and his team to develop web-based activities with interactive videos to inspire undergraduate students in physics and engineering by showing them the exciting things that can be done in an advanced lab setting. “This project is all about engaging undergraduate students in the upper-level physics laboratory,” says Stein. “The activities will be designed to provide an interactive lab-like environment that focuses on the essence of the lab topic. We anticipate that they will enrich learning and student enthusiasm in the advanced lab topics, provide a solid introductory framework to the physics, and lead to more meaningful experiences inside the laboratory.” The interactive videos will be available to the broader physics education community through ComPADRE.org, a digital library of resources for physics and astronomy communities.

The funding will also provide for three undergraduate student researchers during the next two summers.

The project is jointly directed by Stein, Associate Professor of Physics Chad Hoyt and Assistant Professor of Physics Nathan Lindquist, all from Bethel, and in collaboration with Robert Teese, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Assistant Professor of Biology Sara Wyse will lead the activities associated with the project assessment. Hoyt and Lindquist were also awarded NSF grants this past year, and the three grants have totaled more than $625,000 for Bethel research.