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Faculty: David Van Baak

Calvin/TeachSpin Collaboration

Q: What is TeachSpin, anyway?
A: TeachSpin is a small company, based in Buffalo, NY, "dedicated to creating rugged, reliable, and affordable hands-on instruments that any physicist, no matter what his or her area of expertise, can incorporate into an advanced laboratory program."

Q: What is the Calvin connection?
A: TeachSpin collaborates with physicists who have developed ideas or instruments locally, by seeing to the manufacture and distribution of instruments; and several innovations from Calvin College are in the production or development stage at TeachSpin.

Q: When did this get started?
A: Calvin professor David Van Baak got to meet CEO Jonathan Reichert at the TeachSpin display booth at a scientific meeting in 2001, and there learned about this policy of collaboration.

Q: What has happened since?
A1: There have been a variety of Calvin-based innovations that have ended up in the TeachSpin product line, starting with "Two-Slit interference, One Photon at a Time" that was born as a advanced lab semester project by Calvin physics student Andrew VandenHeuvel.

A2: And after a grant from the Doc de Vries fund made it possible for Calvin to purchase TeachSpin's "Earth's Field NMR" apparatus, Van Baak built local improvements which have become the basis of another TeachSpin product, the "EF-NMR Gradient/Field Coils." These make available to other users a wonderful suite of experiments in nuclear magnetic resonance, and the physics of magnetic resonance imaging.

A3: Support from the Spoelhof Externship program, and from TeachSpin, has allowed Van Baak to spend a semester, recent summers, and interims since 2007 working with TeachSpin on a whole list of future product offerings. One of these has been "Modern Interferometry," a kit allowing several versions of ultra-senstive optical investigations.

A4:  Prototyping at Calvin and engineering at TeachSpin has produced the "Torsional Oscillator," a mechanical system optimized for teaching all about the damped, driven, simple harmonic oscillator – perhaps the most widely used model system in all of physics. 

A5:  More investigations at Calvin, and electronics wizardry by TeachSpin Senior Scientist George Herold, has made possible "Noise Fundamentals," which provides the apparatus by which electronic noise can be made to be not a nuisance or a barrier, but a route by which certain fundamental constants can be measured. 

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