AAS Meeting #193 - Austin, Texas, January 1999
Session 59. Undergraduate Teaching: Members Experiences and Research Results
Education, Oral, Thursday, January 7, 1999, 2:00-3:30pm, Room 8 (A,B,C,)

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[59.03] Berkeley's Advanced Labs for Undergraduate Astronomy Majors

Carl Heiles (UC Berkeley)

We currently offer three advanced laboratory courses for undergraduate majors: optical, IR, and radio. These courses contain both intellectual and practical content; in this talk we focus on the radio lab as a representative example. The first half of the semester concentrates on fundamentals of microwave electronics and radio astronomy techniques in four formal laboratory exercises which emphasize hands-on use of microwave devices, laboratory instruments, and computer-controlled data taking. The second half of the course emphasizes astronomy, using a horn with ~1 m2 aperture to map the HI in the Galaxy and a two-element interferometer composed of ~1 m diameter dishes on a ~10 m baseline to measure accurate positions of radio sources and accurate diameters for the Sun and Moon.

These experiments and observations offer ideal opportunities for teaching coordinates, time, rotation matrices, data reduction techniques, least squares, signal processing, image processing, Fourier transforms, and laboratory and astronomical instrumentation. The students can't get along without using computers as actually used by astronomers. We stay away from packaged software such as IRAF, which are ``black boxes''; rather, students learn far more by writing their own software, usually for the first time. They use the IDL language to take and reduce data and prepare them for the lab reports. We insist on quality reports---including tables, postscript graphs and images, correct grammar, spelling, and all the rest---and we strongly urge (successfully!) the students to use LATEX.

The other two lab courses have the same emphasis: the guiding spirit is to place the students in a real-life research-like situation. There is too much to do, so students perform the work in small groups of 3 or 4 and groups are encouraged to share their knowledge. Lab reports are written individually. These courses are very demanding, requiring an average of 20 hours per week from the students (and probably more from the instructors). Everybody loves it!

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