Physics Students Learn Good VibrationsInstrumentation

by Maggie Hedlund ‘09

Does physics give you “excitations”?

If so, you’ll pick up some “good vibrations” through physics research at Gustavus.

The physics department has a grant-funded acoustics lab that features a scanning laser Doppler vibrometer.

Through it, students learn how objects vibrate, which allows them to better understand the study of acoustics or hearing.

The scanning laser Doppler vibrometer shoots a laser off of an object to measure the object’s movement. It works much like a police radar gun measures the speed of a car; unlike a radar gun, the scanning laser Doppler vibrometer measures movement 20 million times per second. So the measurements are extremely precise.

Gustavus student researchers image the vibrations from large instruments like guitars and are working toward imaging organ reeds. (Stay tuned to find out more from Professor Tom Huber and Gustavus physics alumnus and organ builder Charles Hendrickson ’57.)

Students also use the vibrometer to scan small objects like microcantilevers, which are devices used in atomic force microscopes to detect single atoms. These objects are one-third the diameter of a human hair!

Another current project has Gusties learning how to vibrate a variety of instruments through ultrasound without ever physically touching the instrument.

Gustavus physics professor Tom Huber, who oversees the acoustics lab, says this lab gives students a chance to participate in “real science” or hands-on learning experiences with state-of-the-art technology to investigate all their questions.

Still shaking with excitement about the vibrometer? Check out more information in the following video: link or url.

Good vibrations are a-happenin’ in acoustics research all year long at Gustavus. If you would like further information about how to get involved in physics research or about being a physics major at Gustavus, contact Professor Tom Huber at