Physics Colloquium: How discoveries in laser-based advanced manufacturing can translate to improved teaching

Event Details

  • Speaker(s): James Fraser
  • Date:
  • Time: 3:00 pm
  • Location: MacN 101


Post-secondary schooling is expensive partly because research experts are often the teachers.  One way to reduce the cost barriers to education would be to gradually replace these instructors with faculty who are teaching experts and can have larger course loads.  It is useful to consider what is lost with this approach.  I make the case that frontline research not only compliments but can inform teaching practices.  A long standing issue in laser welding is control of the weld depth.  A standard approach is to complete a lengthy optimization procedure to determine the most robust set of control variables but such a technique can fail due to the inherent randomness of the process or incomplete control of the parameters. We went an alternate route - we achieved in situ monitoring to allow feedback on the fly at speeds relevant for control (>kHz) [1].  In the classroom, we also do not control all the input parameters of the "system", our understanding of the learning process is severely limited, and standard feedback channels are extremely poor. In a 200-student physics lecture course. we introduced and tested a variety of approaches to achieve real-time feedback to close the loop to both the instructor and the student before class and in the lecture hall to achieve improved learning outcomes[2].

[1] Webster et al., Optics Letters 39: 6217 (2014). Commercialized by spin-off Laser Depth Dynamics:

[2] Tested using pre to post gain on conceptual inventories and attitudinal surveys.  Fraser et al., Reports on Progress in Physics 77: 032401 (2014).