Success in the new Physics Teaching Laboratory suite

Now being in their second year of use the new Physics/College of Science Undergraduate Teaching laboratories really begin to shine – for the first time in many years the students affirm in their feedback to staff that they are really enjoying practical work now.

PlanetsThe suite of teaching laboratories, IT facilities and group-teaching rooms allows for exciting delivery of the Physics practical modules in the first and second years of study. The modern environment evidently stimulates the students, and new equipment, computers and software by and large guarantee a smooth running of the classes.

But it’s not only the students working in this environment for their degree who appreciate this shiny and invigorating environment. Certainly, it influences prospective students during their visit to the College of Science to seriously consider coming to Swansea to study physics. Comments from parents and youngsters such as “… these are the best teaching laboratories we have seen in the UK during visits …” are not uncommon.

This perception was equally emphasised during the IOP Accreditation visit in the Spring of 2013. One of the strongest elements of the practical classes the IOP panel highlighted in their report are our Group Projects. They commented: “The panel was impressed with the group project undertaken in the second year laboratory. It was a well-designed component of the programme and the usefulness of it was also fully understood by the students who appreciated the employability skills obtained. Students should develop their ability to work independently, to use their initiative and to organise themselves to meet deadlines. They should gain experience of group work and be able to interact constructively with other people.”

During the Group Projects, the students are thrown together, at random, into small groups. Then, starting with only a short introduction of a principle physics idea by the academic group supervisor, they need to develop – under time pressure – a set of experiments from concept via measurement through to the presentation of results. This mimics situations which students will encounter in their later professional life, when it is not sufficient to be seen as a nerdy, lone-working boffin, but to cooperate and communicate with colleagues while meeting strict deadlines.

Certainly our students thoroughly enjoy these tasks, being confronted with challenging projects like for example ‘to use a SmartPhone as a physics measurement device’ or ‘to set up a conceptual demonstration experiment how extra-terrestrial planets are detected’.