Grant gives students an astronomic boost

By Joseph Altman Jr.

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Lunar and Planetary Laboratory will be doing their part to improve undergraduate education in the fall with upgraded laboratories for general education classes.

The LPL recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation's Undergraduate Education Enhancement Program, which will provide the lab with nearly $118,000 in funding.

NSF provided $58,979 as part of their Instrumentation and Laboratory Improvement Program, and the University of Arizona is matching those funds.

Michael Drake, director of the LPL, said the department has also invested additional funds in excess of what is being provided by the grant.

Harold Larson, LPL professor, is the principle investigator for the grant.

He said the grant funds are being used to take the Planetary Sciences 106 course, survey of the solar system, and make its laboratory component "a more relevant experience in science."

Larson said the class fulfills a general education requirement, and meets the grants intent to upgrade undergraduate science labs for non-science majors.

Drake said the upgrades will also benefit several other planetary sciences courses such as "image processing for scientific discovery" and "geology in the solar system" which will truly benefit from the added technology possible through the grant.

"We want to vastly improve the quality and nature of the undergraduate labs," Drake said, "But we need a lot of equipment.

We want to let the students follow the same steps scientists do in discovering things show them how we know what we know in our lectures," Larson said.

He said students will use computers, Geiger counters, microscopes, spectroscopes and other types of equipment to help them answer their own questions and discover science for themselves.

Drake said it gives the department an "opportunity to do more than lecture.

"Our desire to improve came before it became popular to improve undergraduate education," he said.

"We'll provide students with realistic tools and hardware and allow them to measure things they thought they couldn't measure, like the speed of light," Larson said.

A group of 20 faculty members, research staff and graduate students have been working on the implementation of the grant for the past year, Larson said. The goal is to have a complete set of experiments ready to go by the fall semester.

"Doing this is a department effort," Larson said. "We're hoping this will evolve in a graceful, natural way into the new core curriculum."

"This is an example of one of the largest research departments on campus putting significant efforts into undergraduate education," Drake said.

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