The Physics 022: Introductory Physics Laboratory course offered in Lewis Laboratory uses lasers and other various equipment throughout the semester. Many students and teaching assistants have experienced issues with the lab equipment provided, with some of the equipment dating back to the 1980s. (Courtesy of Rebecca Grady)

Outdated lab equipment causes problems in classrooms

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Students and teaching assistants have reported experiencing issues with outdated laboratory equipment during lab periods.

Rebecca Grady, ’21, an engineering student enrolled in Physics 022: Introductory Physics Laboratory, said some of the equipment used in her lab have stamps of their date of production, some of which are dated back to the 1980s.

Grady said using the old equipment is frustrating because it often makes long nighttime labs even longer. She said the newer equipment, which are from the last five years, helps relieve a lot of the stress often felt by her peers and her teaching assistant.

“Whenever we use the newer equipment, the labs just run a lot smoother and go a lot faster,” Grady said. “I feel bad when stuff breaks or is hard to figure out because the (teaching assistants) have to run around and help, and they’re always so great about it, but it just makes it harder for them, too.”

Eric Kaiser, ’16G, ’19 Ph.D., a teaching assistant for Physics 22 labs, said most of the problems in labs are not major, but still have an impact on students when things go awry.

Kaiser said every lab there is at least one minor problem that needs to be resolved. He said there are times where a group needs to be moved to a new lab station, which occurs every few weeks.

Patricia Johnson, vice president for Finance and Administration, said there is a hierarchy in the budget’s priority list that determines when the budget allocation will go toward things such as lab equipment.

She said there is a chain of command who deals with smaller concerns of the operating budget.

“A faculty member can submit a request for new equipment,” Johnson said. “Generally, there’s a hierarchy. It goes to department chairs, and then goes to the deans of each college who can submit a request to us, so it really depends upon what the need is.”

The first two things that are taken care of in the budget are financial aid and salaries and benefits, Johnson said. Everything else comes after that and is broken down by the needs of the individual colleges.

Kaiser said he has noticed that there have been many significant changes in the quality of the lab equipment  since he first began as a teaching assistant.

“When I first came (here) five years ago, I would say that almost every piece of the equipment was very dated,” Kaiser said. “I think the department is definitely making good steps in the right direction to improve in the age of the equipment, but I know they’re limited by their budget.”

There are other ways to get money for certain equipment. Johnson said grants and other forms of donations can also be used for purchasing equipment.

“A lot of times, we get gifts that are given to a specific department who can then use that money to purchase things like new equipment,” Johnson said. “The department of engineering, for example, got a $300,000 gift that they could’ve used any way they wanted to. They chose to use it for a speaker series. It just depends on what the departments want to use (these gifts) for.”

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