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Physics and astronomy students at Trinity have access to state-of-the-art facilities and learn hands-on through our labs, computers, and other equipment that make the University a top-notch physics destination.

Through generous support from the National Science Foundation, the Associated Colleges of the South, and private foundations, we are fortunate to have excellent lab facilities for our introductory physics and astronomy courses in Marrs McLean Hall.

With strong support from the National Science Foundation, we have been able to establish outstanding teaching labs in Marrs McLean Hall for our sophomore, junior, and senior physics majors.

Our faculty have state-of-the-art on-campus research laboratories and also make use of major national facilities to conduct research covering a broad  range of physics and astronomy concerns, including significant interdisciplinary work. This research is supported by the NSF, Research Corporation, NASA, and other funding agencies.

Introductory Physics Labs

The introductory physics labs have high-quality computers and experimental apparatus, with interface units for experiment control and data acquisition. The speed and ease of data acquisition and analysis with this equipment allows students more time for in-depth investigations of each topic. This also facilitates more open-ended, "discovery-based" activities in which students are asked to come up with their own method for testing a physical law or measuring a desired quantity. They can also explore advanced topics seldom covered in first-year undergraduate labs, such as non-linear motion and chaos.

The Marrs McLean Observatory provides students with intensive hands-on experiences in astronomy. We have eight computer-controlled Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, including six with 8" apertures, one with 12" apertures on our observation deck, and one with 16" apertures permanently mounted in its own dome. With sensitive electronic CCD cameras, students are able to observe the former planet Pluto, the faint arms of spiral galaxies, and even a quasar three billion light-years from Earth.

We emphasize a "two-tier" approach in which students first study celestial objects using their own powers of observation and estimation at the eyepiece of a telescope and then obtain CCD images to make precise measurements. Recently, we  added a Small Radio Telescope that enables students to map the rotation of our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

Upper-Division Teaching Facilities

The Sophomore Experimental course is a year-long laboratory experience that includes reinforcement of the fundamental concepts of mechanics and electronics, along with new material such as nuclear physics and optics. The fall semester consists of circuit board work, introducing AC and DC circuits, oscilloscopes, diodes, transformers, transistors, and operational amplifiers. In the spring, students have the opportunity to work with laser interference and diffraction, rotational motion (using a frictionless, velocity-sensing turntable), and nuclear physics (using a Geiger-Muller counter and low-level gamma and beta sources). Emphasis is also placed on scientific writing by requiring abstracts and reports for each lab to prepare students for future careers in both industry and academia. This course will move to a brand new lab in the Center for Sciences and Innovation in the near future.

Our advanced lab sequence consists of four courses that combine circuit board work and rotation through a wide variety of experiments that explore concepts of modern physics and current research areas. Students continue learning about circuit design by adding several common solid state components such as laser diodes, liquid crystal displays, and logic gates. The modern physics and current research topics include several experiments in each of the following areas:

  • Electromagnetic phenomena such as the AC Faraday Rotation, in which students convert their favorite songs to a signal that passes through both a magnetized tube of water and a fiber optic cable before emerging in the party room down the hall.
  • Experimental evidence of quantum mechanics as provided by, for example, shot noise, superconductivity, and Franck-Hertz experiments. The shot noise experiment uses measurements of what just appears to be annoying, useless electronic noise to measure a fundamental quantity in physics—the charge on the electron. The high-temperature superconductivity experiment lets students investigate remarkable phenomena like magnetic levitation and electric current traveling with zero resistance.
  • Aspects of nanotechnology through the fabrication of noble metal nanoparticles and use of an atomic force microscope.

The focus in these advanced labs is placed on more sophisticated data acquisition and processing methods, including introducing students to Matlab computations and lock-in amplifier measurement techniques. Continued practice with scientific writing is also stressed.

Marrs McLean Observatory

The Marrs McLean Observatory provides students with intensive hands-on experiences in astronomy. We have eight computer-controlled Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, including six with 8" apertures, one with 12" apertures on our observation deck, and one with 16"apertures permanently mounted in its own dome. With sensitive electronic CCD cameras, students are able to observe the former planet Pluto, the faint arms of spiral galaxies, and even a quasar three billion light-years from Earth.

Read more about Marrs McLean Hall→