The Team:

Maclean Rouble.

A graduate student in the Department of Physics at McGill University, Maclean works primarily on instrumentation for millimeter-wavelength astronomy. As a former undergraduate in physics, she knows the current teaching laboratory curricula well and has a personal interest in its improvement, hoping to make the undergraduate program a more enriching experience for her fellow students.

Matt Dobbs.

Matt Dobbs is a Professor in the Department of Physics at McGill University and world leader in the development of electronic systems for cosmology telescopes. He also brings his enthusiasm for cosmology and signal processing systems into the classroom. He is intent on communicating the creative aspect of circuit building and signal-processing to students, by empowering them to build on their own ideas with real hardware in the course laboratory, and at home.

Adam Gilbert.

Adam Gilbert is a research associate in the McGill Cosmology group. He has a background in electronic engineering and primarily works on read-out electronics for radio and mm-wave telescopes. He also enjoys interacting with students and improving their understanding of electronics, and looks forward to seeing them use this multifunctional lab tool!


The Project:

William IvenWe look to examine the effectiveness of traditional teaching methods in the undergraduate physics instrumentation laboratory by designing an alternate, active-learning-oriented curriculum accompanied by a portable electronics learning platform, and performing a quantitative comparison of the two teaching methods.


October 2018 Update:

Because the lab course in which we will be deploying our revised curriculum and specially-designed learning platform is taught in the winter semester, we have the fall months to prepare. This preparation revolves around three primary points: the design and construction of the physical device, the testing and debugging of the device’s software, and the development of the new curriculum.

Device design

Nicolas ThomasThis past month, we’ve selected the parts we’ll use to build the physical device. This includes not only the circuit elements that will eventually be printed onto the board, but also the brain of the device: a commercially-available microcontroller. Having finalized our choices for all our components allows us to begin designing the layout of the circuit board for the device, decisions which will have a large impact on the final appearance and functionality of the device as used by students next semester.


One of the most important aspects of the device is its durability, something which requires thorough and repeated testing to achieve in software. The platform involves two main branches of code: one which resides aboard the microcontroller chip and is in charge of its functions, and the other which is hosted by the user’s computer, and handles the graphical user interface. Smooth communications between these two programs is key to the platform’s robustness, particularly when used in the unpredictable, real-world environment of the undergraduate laboratory.


The laboratory curriculum for the course in question involves five main activities. Of these, three have so far been adapted into the active-learning-focused format. Two more to go!