The Laser Teaching Center is a new permanent facility within our department that sponsors a wide variety of project-oriented activities related to optics and lasers. Participants are a mix of Stony Brook and visiting undergraduate and graduate students, Stony Brook Young Scholars, and area high school students. Other Laser Center activities include networking and various collaborations with physics and science research teachers from Long Island high schools, visiting scientists and local small companies.

The Center is located in S-202 Graduate Physics, immediately downstairs from the department office, in space that was originally open hallway area. The concept of creating such a facility in this space was conceived in the summer of 1994, and private donations in 1997 paid for its construction in 1999 after an auspicious ``ground-breaking'' ceremony in October 1998. S-202 is divided into several small connected rooms, which are packed with benches and optical tables carrying instruments and setups, and often jammed -- especially in the most hectic summer months -- with enthusiastic students.

The teaching philosophy of the Center is, first and foremost, to learn by doing. The individualized instruction to every participant encourages self-reliance, reaching for excellence, and independent creative thinking. While students generally work on their projects independently, they also interact with and teach each other often and in diverse ways, quite independently of their formal educational level. Students soon discover for themselves, for example, that there is no better way to learn a subject than to explain it to an inquisitive colleague. They also learn that scientists must plan and document their work carefully, and must write clear and timely final summaries of their accomplishments.

The Center's philosophy includes teaching a "hands-in'' confidence with the networked linux computers in the center and the open sharing of knowledge and results over the web. Data, pictures, and even complete student reports are all freely available on the Center's web site at Also on the site are news items about developments in or related to the center, and a "laserlinks'' library of web resources related to the various projects.

High school students generally start their projects during the summer, when they are free to work full time in the laboratory. The half-dozen or so students chosen are selected through both formal summer programs such as the Simons Fellowship Program and the Summer Research Institute, and by various pe rsonal contacts with high school science teachers and others. In summer 2000 there were projects by Chris Wottowa (Kings Park HS), Dhruv Bansal (Wheatley School), Karl Fey (Vestal HS, Vestal, NY), Christina Hung (Commack HS), Tina Shih (Townsend Harris HS), Sal Barra and Michael Polyakov (Ward Melville HS), and Andrew Koller (Brien McMahon HS, Norwalk, CT).

Many of the high school students continue their work informally well into the next school year, as they develop entries and presentations for various competitions and events such as the Siemens-Westinghouse competition, the Intel Science Talent Search, the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair (LISEF) and the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Last winter there was national recognition (and plenty of local press) as Michael and Andrew's projects were recognized in the highly prestigious Intel and Siemens-Westinghouse competitions. But other students were recognized in other events, and -- more important -- "Success is measured not by judges, but by projects." (Happenings, March 1997).

The wide range of recent undergraduate work in the Center is shown by the five projects that were on display at the recent Celebration of Undergraduate Achievements event in the Student Activities Center on 2 May. Physics majors Doug Broege, Jose Mawyin and Amy Roberts presented their work on holography, ``welcher weg'' experiments and optics demonstrations, respectively, while Alia Sabur and Mike Polyakov reported on hollow laser beams and photon migration in tissue.

Stony Brook undergraduates who will work in the Center this summer include Jose Mawyin with an AGEP Fellowship and Guy Sisalli with a RAIRE Fellowship, while undergraduate Fernando Ziegler will join the Center from UT Austin on an REU Fellowship. High school students will include Molly Bright, Rohit Gupta, and Noah Corwin. All will be guided in part by our department's 2000 David Fox Prize winner, Lisa Bjorndal, who will expand her physics MAT teaching experience by serving as mentor.

An activity that includes both high school and freshman undergraduate students is the Women in Science and Engineering Program (WISE), which t he Center has participated in for the first time this year. Pictures and reports by the students are available on the web at

Most graduate-level work in the Center is associated with the Optics Rotation course, PHY-582. During the current academic year, graduate stud ents Anne-Marie March, Ming Lu, Xueqing Liu, Doug Bennett, Mirna Lerotic, and Xiyue Miao have completed six-week projects and presented their web-based reports. MSI student Bob Azmoun also carried out a minor project on the development of a stabilized laser diode for saturated absorption spectroscopy of rubidium.

This year the Center has been recognized nationally not just through student competitions but also more directly, in an article in the April 2001 Physics Today. According to the article: "The Laser Teaching Center at SUNY Stony Brook is another example of an innovative program that is attracting students and exciting them about physics. Under the leadership of Harold Metcalf and John Noé, a range of hands-on research opportunities in optical physics and laser technology is offered, ... ".

The importance of learning through doing espoused by the Center was beautifully expressed by University President Shirley Strum Kenny in a rec ent letter to the New York Times (13 March 2001): "Higher education is not dependent on the information that students bring with them to college as much a s on how well they know how to pursue knowledge.'' The reader is invited to see this how this principle is implemented by exploring the Laser Teaching Center's w eb site or by calling the Center at (631) 632-4303.

This article by Harold Metcalf and John Noé appeared in the May 2001 Physics & Astronomy Department Newsletter.