Columbia Physics Students to Benefit from State-of-the-Art Instrument Donation

Pupin Hall, home of the Columbia University physics department and a National Historic Landmark.

The Columbia University Physics Department has received a generous gift of a VersaLab from Quantum Design, which will enable the university to significantly advance teaching and learning opportunities in materials science.

“We know that the ability for Columbia University students to have direct access to state-of-the-art research equipment and technology, coupled with instruction in the foundations of physics, creates an ideal training ground for the next generation of physicists to work in numerous fields,” Stefano Spagna, Chief Technical Officer of Quantum Design, said. “The VersaLab is an ideal instrument to use in a teaching lab as it provides all the functionality of a first class materials characterization system without the facilities and helium requirements that a system with this temperature and field range usually demands.”

Quantum Design’s gift will foster transformative education and discoveries by enabling Columbia faculty and students to use a modern tool to better understand, explore, and improve the characteristics and qualities of materials used in information processing and sensing.

“We are extremely grateful for Quantum Design’s generosity and their contribution to science education,” Peter de Menocal, Dean of Science of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said. “Gifts such as this play an important role in preparing Columbia graduates to become leaders in their field and make discoveries that benefit society.”

The gift helps magnify Columbia’s strength in physics education and foster new learning opportunities for students. All physics majors will gain valuable hands-on experience with the new instrument, from senior students to those new to the discipline.

Dmitri N. Basov, Higgins Professor of Physics, said the gift is meaningful because it will allow students and researchers to use exciting cutting-edge techniques for data acquisition.

“Physics is behind everything great in modern life,” Basov said. “We want to strike a balance between showing our students ideas that go back centuries while also learning new approaches and making discoveries using state-of-the-art equipment.”

The physics department will name the newly renovated teaching laboratory housing the instrument the “Quantum Design Lab” in honor of the company’s donation. In spring 2019, a one-day workshop will be held at Columbia for innovators of physics instruction in the New York City metropolitan area. Attendees will discuss new ideas for teaching experimental physics enabled by the VersaLab platform and similar instruments.

The Columbia physics department has a strong and storied history. There are 30 Physics Nobel Laureates associated with the department, and many of its graduates have made major contributions to their discipline. The department—and the new laboratory housing the instrument—are located in Pupin Hall, a National Historic Landmark. The building is where U.S. scientists made groundbreaking advances in nuclear research and first split the atom in 1939.

The department’s acquisition of equipment for teaching and learning began with the Ernest Kempton Adams (EKA) Fund for Physical Research. Adams, a young Columbia alumnus, died in 1904 and the fund was established shortly thereafter, with a gift of $50,000 and the donation of a valuable collection of scientific equipment gathered by Adams before his death.

“Like the foundational EKA Fund donation, this gift from Quantum Design supports our educational goals, which include training and developing outstanding physicists,” Robert Mawhinney, chair of the Columbia physics department. “Having a leading-edge instrument in our teaching labs is vital to the education and experience of our students.”

Quantum Design and Columbia share the goal of engaging students in authentic scientific discovery and preparing them to become future scientific leaders.

“This gift is about giving back to the universities and physics communities that use our instruments and help us to be so successful,” Greg DeGeller, President of Quantum Design, said. “By donating this instrument to Columbia University’s new teaching laboratory, we know that we are helping to train the next generation of physicists who will solve problems and answer questions about the world we might only just be starting to think about.”

— Roz Cummins

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