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Open TP : students’ labs, Fab-Lab style


New tools tools are finally available to democratize physical measurement, and paradoxically these tools do not come from physicists. Heavily used in Fab-Labs, the Arduino board is a microcontroller that is used by a large community of makers in projects ranging from robots to light clock, from RFID flap to android bartender. At the “Physique Autrement” team, in collaboration with some of our colleagues at the LPS, we took advantage of the high number of sensors, and the low cost of these materials to design a new class for L3 fundamental physics students of the Paris-Sud University : students must build their own lab !


The goal is to let students have a lot of autonomy and let them discover experimental physics, and avoid the cook-book students’ lab. They decide their own subject, with no a pre-established list. Before that, students are introduced to Arduino for two days. This initiation is done by “learning by doing” ; the students are immediately asked to manipulated and very quickly are challenged to make a game, using material chosen from a bric-a-brac (ping-pong balls, aluminum foil, plastic cup, lego, modeling clay ...). These two days allow students to realize that they can easily build devices using sensors. After having defined their project themselves, they then have five consecutive days to carry it out : building their measurement system, testing it, conducting the physical study they have chosen, analyzing their data. A mini research job in five days.

The student projects are diverse : study of the resistance of a superconductor, elasticity of a copper rod, percolation, chaos, magnetism of the material, ... A project on the study of dynamic friction was even published which the students as first authors. After completing this class, most of the students say they have learned a lot about how to do an experiment (how to make measurements, how to interpret them), but they also greatly appreciated the freedom to carry out their own project. This new teaching was developped by a team of LPS teachers and is now adapted in other places.

Beyond this, the democratization of these new tools (Arduino board, but also smartphones) offers teachers an opportunity to rethink the ways of teaching experimental physics : these tools allow outside-the-classroom easier measurements. And above all, students are exposed to an experimental approach closer to that of research labs. To federate a community of physicist users, we worked with illustrators to produce freely usable resources : Arduino challenge sheets, and a tutorial-creation system to easily share projects with the community. These resources can be found in French and English on the website www.opentp.fr .

References

Website :
www.opentp.fr

Article describing the open TP :
Project-based physics labs using low-cost open-source hardware
F. Bouquet, J. Bobroff, M. Fuchs-Gallezot, and L. Maurines
American Journal of Physics 85, 216 (2017)
doi:10.1119/1.4972043

Article presenting the student project on solid friction :
A study of kinetic friction : The Timoshenko oscillator
Robin Henaff, Gabriel Le Doudic et al.
American Journal of Physics 86, 174 (2018)
doi:10.1119/1.5008862

Contact

Frédéric Bouquet