Rubbing Elbows

Unpacked: Sound Waves and Soldering Irons 

Johnathan Newport, American University physics lab director, research specialist, and adjunct faculty member

Jonathan Newport
Welding gloves and apron

Since I came to AU 10 years ago, the types of scientific problems that we’re tackling have gotten more complicated and ambitious. I use the electronics and machine shops to design and build experiments for faculty, staff, and students across the arts and sciences. 

Digital multimeter

A digital multimeter measures the components used in electronic circuitry. 

Cell heater made with mill and lathe

I recently used a mill and lathe to make a cell heater out of Teflon, aluminum, brass, and glass for a quantum optics experiment. I’m mostly a self-taught machinist; YouTube is a great resource.

Notebook with written mathematical proofs

It is easier to write proofs and draw schematics in a notebook than on a computer.

Safety glasses

Some lab equipment can cause serious injury or death. High voltage sources and compressed gases are particularly dangerous.

Breadboard and circuit

I have been building prototype circuits since I was 13, and I use breadboards to make sure that they work before I commit them to a printed circuit board.


Hundreds of cables connect and power everything in the lab.


Oscilloscopes allow me to investigate properties of nature like light, sound, pressure, and temperature. They display these properties in time and can capture signals that are billionths of a second in duration.

Power supply

Power supplies provide voltages and currents that allow my circuits to operate.

Metal materials

I consider properties like thermal and electrical conductivity, coefficient of friction, and heat capacity when choosing materials for a project.

Screwdrivers and pliers

Physicists solve problems with their minds and their hands.

Function generator

Function generators create waveforms used as stimuli for electronic experiments.

Calipers and tape measure

Calipers are the easiest thing to grab to take dimensional measurements. We still use inches in the machining world, so we have tape measures with both imperial and metric units.

Soldering iron

Soldering irons melt solder to join the components together permanently.