Jeanne Leong reports that in the NSB, located at Fifth and Federal Sts. in Camden, the three new state-of-the-art physics labs provide students and faculty with access to resources including a high-powered microscope, laser systems, and a vibration-free work table only a few other colleges and universities even have.
“These new labs allow us to be very innovative with how we deliver our curriculum to engage students,” says Bubb.
In the Introductory Physics Lab, located on the second floor of the NSB, students can measure the air resistance of objects that they’ve created with 3D printers.
Other tools they use include Matlab for data analysis. For instrumentation, they use Labview, which is an industry-standard instrumentation package.
The lab provides students with experiences that have applications in industrial lab work that prepares them for work outside of the classroom.
“They can come in and get data, they can use an apparatus to produce data and analyze the data,” says Bubb. “That’s something that would happen in any industrial laboratory, whether it is a chemical lab, or a physical lab.”
Another lab on the NSB second floor, the Flex Lab is where students can do more advanced work in physics, such as electric circuits and advanced electrical work.
Using an apparatus in this lab, they’re building something they’re calling “optical tweezers,” which use a light beam to hold a nanoparticle in place, such as on a microscope. “The ‘optical tweezers’ hold them in place where you couldn’t have anything mechanical to do that,” says Bubb.
On the first floor of the NSB is the Physics Laser Materials Lab, where faculty members share research space along with graduate and undergraduate students.
Through equipment acquired from National Science Foundation funding received by Sean O’Malley, an associate professor of physics, the lab supports a variety of research studies. A specially created vibration-free table allows researchers to do their work.
“When vibrations are present, it affects our ability to keep the laser beam in one location for a measurement,” says Bubb. “Since we do experiments with individual nanoparticles, it would be possible for the particles to move in and out of the beam path during a measurement.”
What’s unique about the table is that it is on a cut slab. “They cut the floor away from the walls all the way around, so the vibrations from outside are not transmitted through the floor,” says Bubb. “It’s all bolted together so that the surface, if there’s any kind of stimulants, the hydraulics of the table floating quickly dampen out the vibrations and keep the table as level as possible.”
Using the table, researchers put laser light into a microscope and then perform a combination of techniques.
“We might get information back, like process information,” says Bubb. “Or we might do fundamental characterization of how nanoparticles interact with their surroundings.”
The new labs are a welcome addition to the Department of Physics. Before the NSB opened in September, the only lab space they had was in a converted classroom on the fourth floor of the Business and Science Building.
Bubb says there was a lot of vibration in the old lab, and the equipment wasn’t situated properly, so it limited the kinds of work they could do, particularly in optics.
“The gist of our research is that we do what’s called plasmonic enhanced processing,” says Bubb. “Plasmonic materials are small metal particles that absorb light. So, it could be small particles of gold, silver, or copper that absorb laser light. If you can place them inside of other materials, you can direct where the processing occurs.”
One of the group’s largest projects involves the poration of vesicles, in which fake cells that are like bags of water are floating around. “We put metal nanoparticles on the outside and we can poke a little hole ,” says Bubb.
“This is really useful for things like, what’s called ‘targeted delivery,’ like if you had to put a payload into there that you wanted to come out in only a certain location, something like drug delivery. That type of thing would be really useful.”
In another project, recently, researchers worked with a long-time collaborator in biology to look at the effect of silver nanoparticles on certain types of bacteria.
The new labs and the academic programs were created through collaborative efforts by physics professors Bubb, O’Malley, and Julie Griepenburg.
The faculty work with students mainly in physics and chemistry, but they also mentor students in computer science and biology.
“As a group, we are able to do things that none of us individually would be able to do. So to provide our students, they get mentoring from people who are at different stages in their careers, and people with different perspectives. Julie brings the chemistry and she crosses over into physics. Sean and I cross over to chemistry from physics.”