Real, Hands-On Project Learning
One of the interesting aspects of the Laser Optics Lab is that students encounter a wide variety of learning opportunities associated with the use of tools, hardware, and the challenges of real laboratory research. As in a real research lab, students build their own apparatus, and when it doesn’t work properly, the students themselves must learn how to troubleshoot. In the Regents Laser Optics Lab, students learn about different types of optical hardware, types and sizes of screw threads, types of tools, how to solder, how to search for parts in industrial catalogs, how to troubleshoot computers, and on and on. One year, students even learned how to sweat copper tubing with a propane torch! Skills with software, hardware, and tools are very valuable assets for just about anyone.
Learning curves are often steep for both students and teacher! Questions students ask can literally become multi-year projects as we learn together. Sometimes our projects require expert help in areas such as software coding, imaging techniques, or mixing chemicals. In real research labs, projects extend over long periods of time and student researchers must develop great patience. Contending with hardware failures, delays, and unforeseen difficulties are unavoidable aspects of real laboratory work that students don’t normally encounter in conventional high-school laboratory courses. In the Laser Optics Lab, these events are part of our daily work.