2023 IOP Technician Award: Dr Jason Anderson
Higher Education and Further Education
Dr Jason Anderson for outstanding contributions to modernising taught laboratories in line with contemporary research practices, and enabling delivery of remote and hybrid practical sessions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
On arrival as a technician in the physics department at Durham University in 2016, Dr Jason Anderson immediately began to play a central role in updating laboratory teaching in our second-year undergraduate laboratories to train students in the technical skills valuable for contemporary research. His outstanding technical abilities, particularly in electronics and programming, have been key in enabling modernisation of teaching laboratory activities. Anderson made it possible to computer-automate the experiments in a way that provides students the opportunity to learn to control how the experiments operate, as in a modern research laboratory, rather than simply employing inflexible proprietary user interfaces.
Automating experiments played a key role in enabling the switch to online and hybrid laboratory teaching that the department made during the Covid-19 pandemic, where students were provided with take-home lab-in-a-box kits. Anderson led the development of these kits, which included microcontrollers and sensors that allowed students to learn how to make computer-controlled measurements despite working at home. The development of these kits was described at Physics-LTHE community online meetings and the ideas were enthusiastically received by the community. Anderson solved the logistical challenge of procurement of components and packing and distributing these kits. Over the course of two academic years, this involved distribution of kits to around 500 undergraduate and postgraduate students; a tremendous effort that has had a huge beneficial impact on these students. These lab-in-a-box kits provided students with an inspiring opportunity to truly design their own experiments, with Anderson tirelessly providing invaluable guidance and technical support.
A team of students built on this and, with technical support from Anderson, began a research project to investigate acoustic levitation in microgravity as part of the European Space Agency ‘Spin your thesis’ programme. Prior to adopting formalised remote laboratory activities, Anderson guided, and ultimately collaborated with, a team of students working on ‘simplified’ experiments at home during their spare time. This resulted in a peer-reviewed publication featuring Anderson and two undergraduate students as co-authors.
This citation describes only a small fraction of the outstanding contributions Anderson makes to the physics department at Durham University, and beyond. He provides excellent training and mentorship to apprentices across the department’s technical services, and the 3D printing service that he pioneered has become an invaluable resource widely used for teaching and research in physics, and also more widely across the university, including even the mathematics department!