Story in the College of Arts & Sciences
Assistant Professor, Physics
Physics Professor Chris Weber encourages undergraduates to step outside of the classroom and put on their lab coats.
Chris Weber studies how light interacts with matter.
This assistant professor of physics chose SCU because of “the ability to do research here,” and the University has afforded him many opportunities to be a teaching scholar.
Weber encourages students to ask questions in the classroom and supports their hands-on learning in the lab. “This is about thinking with your hands,” emphasizes Weber. “It’s about thinking with 3D objects.”
A project Weber’s currently working on uses light to measure the properties of gallium manganese arsenide “in the hope that it will enable people to come up with a better magnetic semiconductor.”
Better magnetic semiconductors “enable computers to ‘remember’ what they’re doing even when their power is off.” Computers could then run on a much longer battery.
To do this, Weber uses lasers to measure how quickly the magnetism in this material moves from one place to the next. The challenge is Weber has to make these laser beams work. “You don’t just turn it on and it works,” he says.
That’s where undergraduate research students come in.
Weber gives his students tips, but the students carry out most of the experiment. “I have had the students do just about every part of this research,” Weber points out.
The students measure samples of the magnetic material they’re testing, take data, and try to get the laser to work.
However, having the experiment run smoothly is like solving a really hard puzzle. “That’s just the nature of research,” Weber admits. “If it weren’t hard, somebody would have already done it.”
Fortunately, the reward pays off for both students and professor. Students gain valuable hands-on experience and Weber gets a set of new eyes and questioning minds that help move his research forward.
“Having capable students in the lab advances my research not just because they do work that I don’t have time to do, but because they have ideas that I don’t have,” explains Weber. “It also helps renew a sense of discovery and excitement in science, when you’re teaching it to new people, and when they’re learning it for the first time.”
And, as Weber will attest, it’s important to ignite that excitement early on.
"When I was an undergraduate, I remember being told that if you want to succeed in science, you need to get involved in research early," he recalls. "And I took that to heart."
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