NSF Grant Supports Creation of Modern Optics Courses

The National Science Foundation has awarded the Department a grant of almost $100,000 to create a set of optics courses for undergraduate science and engineering students.  This project is being directed by Chris Sorensen and Zenghu Chang with additional efforts by Brett DePaola, Bruce Law and Sanjay Rebello.  It will create interactive studio instruction for the first semester of a junior / senior level, three-semester optics course. It adapts and implements hands-on, interactive, peer-instruction methods developed successfully by others and aspects of Paradigms in Physics developed at Oregon State University. Application of interactive studio instruction to an upper level physics course is novel. An important aspect of the optics studio is a mini-exploration / mini-lecture / mini-lab combination for instruction. This involves a very brief acquaintance (mini-exploration) followed by a short lecture (mini-lecture) over some aspect of optics. This is followed by a similarly short period of experimentation with optical equipment (mini-lab) that illustrates and amplifies the mini-lecture. Students work on the mini-lab in groups of four, which encourages peer instruction while the lecturer visits the student groups to provide direct, interactive instruction. Many of the mini-labs are related to homework problems which helps to combine conceptual and problem solving skills. A few mini-exploration / mini-lecture / mini-lab combinations with associated problems are performed each two-hour studio period.

The NSF Grant will support the creation of the studio instruction and acquisition of equipment.  A gift from Bill and Joan Porter is providing funding for creating space appropriate for this type of instruction.