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 Tuesday, Jan 24, 2006 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Machine Shop Teaches Industrial Skills to Academics
by Jon Leslie, Publications and Creative Services

The CU-Boulder Physics Trades Teaching Lab is a unique resource among major universities. By completing one-week, safety-intensive courses in machining and/or welding, students and faculty can gain valuable industrial skills and receive a risk management safety card that provides them access to the lab for as long as they are affiliated with the university. This unique arrangement has empowered students and faculty from all over campus to design and manufacture unique components for a variety of research and creative work.

"We teach approximately 200 students a year from everywhere from the music department to aerospace engineering," said Sid Gustafson, who has taught and supervised the lab since its inception in 1996. "We've had people from applied physiology and molecular, cellular and developmental biology; we've had someone make their own flutes and things like that. This is easily one of the most diverse groups on campus, because everyone is in here."

"I require all of my graduate students to take the machine shop course," said Rodger Kram, associate professor of integrative physiology, "Some of the equipment we've made here in the lab - we're the only ones who have it in the world."

"I have visited many, many universities and this is absolutely unique," said Fazly Ataullakhanov, a Moscow State University biophysicist working with researchers in the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department. "This facility is very important to our efforts to measure small forces that split chromosomes during the process of cell division."

"When I took the class I had never been in a machine shop," said Qudsia Quraishi, a doctoral candidate in the physics department. "Having this lab means getting your research done and getting publications, instead of waiting for a company to send you parts you can make yourself."

The lab has played a role in many important research projects on campus, including parts that are on the international space station, parts that have gone up in space shuttles and many of the parts for the College of Engineering and Applied Science's SECA car. In this way, it has served as a useful backup to the professional machine shops in JILA, physics, chemistry and engineering.

"Those are the professional shops and they are the cream of the crop," said Gustafson. "We have some of the best instrument makers in the country who can make just about anything. This shop here is really for the support of the students. I'm here to supervise them—they're never alone. Once you take the class, that doesn't make you a certified welder or a machinist. What it does is make you aware of everything that's available to you, and then you have to actually do it. As a researcher, you need to be able to be in the shop."

For more information about the Physics Trades Teaching Lab, visit

Machine Shop Teaches Industrial Skills to Academics

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