Physics and Engineering Facilities & Equipment

Gain Hands-On Experience with High-tech Equipment

The best way to learn is by doing. Houghton offers a curriculum that emphasizes the practical laboratory experience. By the end of your time here, you'll have spent several years becoming deeply involved in a “real-world” research problem. Impress your future employers with your deep understanding of professional projects, experience with high-tech equipment, and ability to easily tackle new, complicated challenges.

The Art of the Self-Driving Car

The capabilities of Artificial Intelligence have previously been treated as nothing more than mere theories. Yet there has been a shift in technology the past few years that has started to prove these theories can, in fact, be brought to life. Dr. Jie Zhao, an Electrical Engineering professor at Houghton, is helping her students to continue making the impossible possible by taking the first steps towards developing successful self-driving cars.

Over the last year, Dr. Zhao has been guiding her students through the process of building and creating embedded image recognition from scratch. This technology is coded to recognize specific faces and objects that will be essential in self-driving cars. Using 3D printing technology in Houghton’s labs, students have been able to bring their models to life.

Students working together on science honors project

They have learned, mastered, and used Raspberry Pi small single-board computers to code their models and teach the Artificial Intelligence about the embedded image recognition process.

Dr. Zhao and her students have been able to turn their Paine Center for Science laboratories from demonstrations of technological theories to true implementations. Step-by-step, beginning with embedded image recognition, Houghton students are getting closer to developing the technology needed for revolutionary and world-changing self-driving cars.

Student working with machinery in science lab

Hands-on with high-tech equipment:

  • Cyclotron [particle accelerator]
  • Farnsworth Fusor [nuclear fusion chamber]
  • Scanning electron microscope [6 nanometer resolution]
  • X-ray diffractometer
  • Wind tunnel
  • One of the nation's fastest supercomputers [for simulations in aeronautical engineering]

The “Magic” of the Microstar

Every year, Physics students at Houghton get to find new ways to change science forever. Projects they build from scratch, conduct research on, and work with professors on are housed in Houghton’s Paine Center for Science. One of these projects, known as the “Microstar,” has been in progress for five years. Started by Katelyn Cook ʼ19, the Microstar takes a deeper dive into fundamental nuclear science by allowing students to make measurements of what can occur in stars—something that has never been done before.

The Microstar uses inertial confinement fusion to yield its results. This occurs when tiny capsules filled with nuclear fuel are hit with lasers from every direction, causing the capsule to compress and heat up enough for fusion reactions to occur—similar to what occurs in the Sun. The students only have nanoseconds to observe these nuclear reactions and collect the gas it creates, which allows them to study the radioactive decay products and create their necessary measurements.

This is really cutting edge. This is a new way for looking at the reactions that can occur in stars. It’s something that’s really difficult to do and so no one’s really ever been able to do it.

- Dr. Mark Yuly, Professor of Physics

Malachi standing with President Lewis in physics lab

Houghton students have been able to work with other schools such as SUNY Geneseo to collaborate on ideas and research regarding this project. The research that began on a grant in 2010 is still being developed day-by-day by these students and their passion for changing science forever, one microstar at a time.