Sanders Laboratory of Physics, the home of the Vassar College Physics and Astronomy Department, recently underwent a complete renovation and is now shared with Computer Science. The newly renovated facility features state-of-the-art classrooms, one of which is outfitted with three interactive Smartboards and classroom-dedicated sets of Ipads, Macbooks, and Surface Pros. All laboratory spaces are brand new and have been significantly enhanced for introductory, upper-level, and research purposes.
A wide range of opportunities are available for physics students who wish to become involved in experimental work and research. The Introductory Lab activities focus on fundamental experiments in mechanics, electronics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, and optics. At the advanced level, students enrolled in the experimental physics lab course carry out work in a suite of rooms equipped for experiments in topics ranging across the discipline including optics, quantum mechanics, and special relativity (the Michelson-Morley experiment). The primary space in this experimental suite is the Collaborative Learning Laboratory, which allows students in small groups to work interactively with advanced equipment and computerized data acquisition systems. There are also several specialized labs in the Physics and Astronomy Department that are directly correlated with active research projects being conducted by the faculty, including the Vassar Applied Optics Laboratory (VAOL) and the Vassar Ultrafast Optics Laboratory.
On the astronomy side of things, the department encourages students, beginning in their first year if possible, to work closely with faculty on research. Advanced students are often credited as coauthors on scholarly articles. Some research is based at the Class of 1951 Observatory where, after training, students have access to instrumentation. The primary facilities are the 0.8-meter and the 0.5-meter telescopes, each computer-controlled and equipped with an electronic camera and a spectrograph. There is, in addition, a small laboratory in the renovated Sanders Laboratory for the construction and testing of astronomical instruments.
Other research is based on data collected with space-based or other ground-based telescopes (for example, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope). Students normally reduce and analyze astronomical data with specialized software in the PACS (Physics, Astronomy, and Computer Science) Computer Laboratory in Sanders.
In addition to a large number of Macs and PCs used in the introductory and advanced laboratories, a variety of technical software programs are used for coursework and research, including Comsol, Mathematica, MATLAB, and Origin. This software is available on computers throughout the building, including in the dedicated physics and astronomy computer lab, and can also be accessed through student-owned computers via a key-server system.
See also, Scientific Visualization Laboratory