Sweet Briar students benefit from five physics teaching and research laboratories as well as our machine shop. All facilities feature modern equipment acquired with grants from the National Science Foundation, the Jeffress Memorial Trust, the Kresge Foundation and the American Astronomical Society.

Laser and Optics Research Laboratory

This laboratory is involved in developing laser-based sensors to study aspects of the atmosphere. The lab is equipped with a Q-switched Nd:YAG laser system plus optical parametric oscillator (OPO) for laser excitation experiments (excitation wavelengths 266 nm, 355 nm, 532 nm, with tunable output from 420 nm – 2300 nm). We also have a computer-driven monochromator/PMT detection system for measuring emission spectra and lifetimes.

Radio Astronomy Research Laboratory

Linux workstations allow research on radio astronomy observations obtained by various radio telescopes around the world.

Advanced Physics Laboratory

To support advanced laboratory courses, students and faculty use the laboratory for experiments that investigate Frank-Hertz Systems and Geiger-Muller Systems for radioactivity. The laboratory has a Millikan Oil Drop Apparatus for the determination of the charge-to-mass ratio of the electron, a velocity of light equipment, and an MRI and electron-spin resonance apparatus.


Students use a 12″ computer-controlled Cassegrain, a 10″ Dobsonian reflector, and several smaller telescopes.

Computer Lab

Computers for data acquisition and analysis are housed in the computer lab. The department has a computational physics lab utilizing desktop PCs. Software such as Matlab and Kaleidagraph is used for data reduction and modeling.

Machine Shop

Outfitted with machine tools and cutting tools to produce parts, the machine shop is used for both physics and engineering projects. For metal work, students can use a lathe, mill, drill press, band saw and cutoff saw — in addition to basic hand tools.