If you build it, they will understand: Physics expert leads development
of customized microscope for experiments
A Grand Valley physics faculty member knew advanced undergraduate
students would understand quantum tunneling better if they could carry
out experiments rather than rely on abstract representations.
So Josh Veazey, assistant professor of physics, led the effort to
develop a customized microscope that students could use in the
laboratory to more deeply study quantum tunneling. Students were also
involved in the creation of the instrument, including alumnus Randy
Lindgren, who Veazey said constructed the original prototype and was
part of the design.
Veazey said the equipment, dubbed the "z-axis tunneling
microscope," is a cost-effective way for students to study
quantum tunneling, which is the process of particles such as electrons
ending up on the other side of a barrier that they should not be able
Josh Veazey wanted to find a way to enhance the learning experience for
undergraduate students studying physics.
"The idea is that it is less expensive and easier to build so it
can be used as part of undergraduate labs," Veazey said.
A scanning tunneling microscope is the ideal equipment for this type
of research, but it is cost prohibitive for most higher education
physics programs to obtain the instrument, Veazey said. This
microscope is a simplified version that still helps students by seeing
what they are studying in action.
Veazey has been sharing this work with colleagues both in person and
through publications such as the American Journal of Physics. Veazey will also
welcome colleagues from other schools to GVSU this summer for an
immersive session where they will learn how to build and use the
equipment in their own undergraduate labs.
This is the first piece of equipment that Veazey has built at GVSU,
though he said, "Most experimental physicists have a combination
of equipment that they built and that they bought."
Noah Fuerst, who is majoring in physics, said using this equipment
helped open up a new avenue for him in the discipline.
"Using our customized scanning tunneling microscope, we were
able to demonstrate qualitative differences in the density of states
between metals, semimetals and semiconductors," Fuerst said.
"In the end, I was introduced to a new branch of physics I had
never studied before and without the equipment, I would have most
likely never become as interested in condensed-matter physics as I am today.”
Sign up and receive the latest Grand Valley headlines delivered to your email inbox each morning.