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User facility science

October 3, 2012

Back in grad school I bounced around between a lot of labs before settling on (for) the lab I did my dissertation in. Many of these labs had cool on-campus facilities. The lab I ended up working in did not have on campus facilities. A couple times a year I would fly down to Berkeley to spend a sleepless week pulling data out of the ALS. Ups and downs aside it was an interesting time.
Today in AP Physics we started a user facility lab. I only have one reliable launcher (the Launcher of Science), it became our ALS. I introduced the class to the device and told them they each had two five minute research sessions during which they would have access to the device. The “goal” of the lab was to launch a ball bearing to a yet-to-be-defined target across the room. They needed to use their two chunks of five minutes wisely to get all the data needed to plot their course. Before and after their five minutes sessions they plotted and schemed over exactly what data they wanted to take and how they were going to get it in in just five minutes. I thoroughly enjoyed watching them come up with plans and strategies for the impending Science.

Pros: The stopwatch really did tighten up their focus. Having a goal dumped a dash of excitement into the lab. We all have a laugh when they ask me “but wait, do bonus points do anything?” “No, no they don’t.”

Cons: I made the challenge too easy, fixed launch location would have constrained the variables they had access to in a way that would have required more physics from them…Or so I suspect. Perhaps they’ll all miss tomorrow when they show up to take their shots.

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