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Customer Spotlight

April 2014
State-of-the-art Instruments for Laboratory Teaching

About Newtonian Labs

Newtonian Labs is founded by Dr. Kenneth G. Libbrecht, a professor of physics at Caltech University. Libbrecht received his PhD in 1984 at Princeton University and has spent valuable years researching the properties of ice crystals, particularly the structure of snowflakes. His published books include: "The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty", "Ken Libbrecht's Field Guide to Snowflakes", "The Little Book of Snowflakes", and "The Art of The Snowflake: A Photographic Album".

Recently, Libbrecht has launched Newtonian Labs, providing state-of-the-art tools and instruments for scientific laboratory teaching. Libbrecht started the company with the idea of enhancing the experience that introductory lab participants receive in their university education. When feeling like the simple mechanical experiments (pushing buttons then analyzing) was more like ancient physics, Libbrecht decided to modernize the student's experience by providing engaging lab experiments (more of a topical perspective). There was nothing on the market to buy, so he decided to build it from scratch.

Newtonian Labs is known for bringing quality and affordable tools in the hands of laboratory teaching instructors. Their brand new website: currently has 2 experiment packages; electrodynamic ion traps and a magneto-mechanical harmonic oscillator.

Electrodynamic Ion Traps

Electrodynamic Ion Traps

The Experiment

There is a visually stimulating aspect yet, underlying importance of physics when watching ion trap experiments. The physics of the experiment encompasses basic mechanics and the study of electromagnetism. The experiment uses a set of three different electrodynamic ion traps to capture 25-microndiameter charged particles in air. The particles are illuminated with a green laser light, making them easily visible to lab participants. The end result allows participants to further explore aspects of the trap dynamics, observe Coulomb crystals, and make quantitative measurements of particle charges and masses. Lab students have agreed that this experiment is a great crowd pleaser and students with minimal interest in physics will find this experiment a visual treat.

The Product

The complete product package comes with: the main chassis, three different ion traps, high-definition video imaging hardware (HDTV camera, macro and micro optics and HDTV monitor), a vial of particles, steerable green laser, plus necessary accessories and comprehensive teaching guides. The various ion traps allow for a range of observations and measurements. For a total of $7490, you get the entire package as shown in the picture:

Magneto-Mechanical Harmonic Oscillator

Oscillator Demonstration

The Experiment

This is a lively experiment at an introductory level, as participants learn about high-Q harmonic oscillators and clock physics. Participants test mass of the torsional oscillator and change its spring constant. With the laser-based diagnostics, students are able to measure many aspects of simple harmonic motions. The instrument includes a "clock mode", where feedback produces self-sustaining oscillations, and precision measurements of the clock frequency allow another series of experimental tests. This instrument offers many enlightening experiments with ease, giving students an excellent tour of the fundamental physics of harmonic motion. This experiment introduces students to a fascinating and vital area of physics and modern technology.

The Product

The complete package includes all of the oscillator hardware and a precision waveform generator. For the total price of $2995, students examine the physics of the simple harmonic oscillator with special emphasis on high-Q oscillators and the physics of clocks.

What's Coming Up

Dr. Ken Libbrecht is consistently striving to bring modern lab instruments into the doors of physics labs. When asked what he is currently working on; he gives a brief statement on a new hands-on optics instrument; the laser interferometer (currently in the testing phases). He states that this will be "a new experiment that allows you to measure incredibly precise distances using a mirror and comparing it to the wavelength of light. It will be like, measuring the distance of New York to Los Angeles using the length of a human hair."

Stay tuned to for more updates on the laser interferometer

The Technical Process

Protocase's Role

The two lab experiments both include chassis manufactured by Protocase, which provides the base for the wiring and experiment hardware. As mentioned, Libbrecht had decided to build these instruments from scratch from an idea in his mind. He found Protocase and was immediately intrigued by the lead times, quoted prices and options for customization. His co-worker had also used Protocase with positive reviews from personal experience.

In a recent interview, Libbrecht had stated that there was no one else quite like Protocase out there. "I love the software, as it is easy and basic for anyone to use". He also touched on the customer service he receives, stating that "the service is perfect" as he can speak one-to-one with knowledgeable tech experts for troubleshooting.

There is a mutual understanding that university labs need to be hands on, so the opportunity to engage the students is valuable. It's like driving a car: you can learn inside a class room how to drive a car but in order to fully understand, you need to be hands on and drive the vehicle, understand how the engine works, etc. That is Libbrecht's approach to his innovative lab instruments, to provide a level of interest to first-level physics students and engage them to understand that there is so much more to learn than just opening a book or pushing buttons.