Our physics professors perform a significant amount of applied research, and because we have no graduate students, our undergraduates almost always play a major role. Dozens of students have benefited from this chance to work directly with faculty members doing publishable physics and engineering research. Since 2010, we have published or presented more than 48 papers with over 40 student co-authors.

Examples of research in Bethel’s Physics Department include: measuring and modeling shock waves using a shock tube accelerator (our very own ping-pong cannon that was featured on the cover of the American Journal of Physics); atomic and molecular optics work where students have recently achieved magneto-optical cooling of Lithium atoms down to a few thousandths of a degree above absolute zero; professor Chad Hoyt’s National Science Foundation (NSF) research grant to develop fiber laser frequency combs; and a new "NanoLab" where students are studying nanotechnology, nano-optics, and nano-bio-sensors.

Research Facilities

Our research laboratories are particularly well-equipped in the areas of modern optics, electronics, laser physics, and fluid dynamics. We’ve made many recent improvements to our lab space, and have just finished an exciting new Nanotechnology and Biosensing Lab.

Experimental Fluid Dynamics Lab

We’ve recently built a Fluid Dynamics Lab with wind, water, and supersonic shock tunnels to support the applied physics major and many aspects of the engineering research that occurs at Bethel. The space is designed to exceed the needs of our Fluid Mechanics engineering course and also provide research opportunities for undergraduates interested in aeronautical, civil, and mechanical engineering.

  • Mach 3 Supersonic Shock Tunnel - Custom built with two dynamic piezoelectric transducers for pressure and shock speed measurements and microsecond event triggering capability.
  • Infrasonic Wind tunnel - Variable speed, open circuit, 10 Hp, with pressure and force measurement system. Donated by the University of Minnesota.

Advanced Optics Lab

Recently, Bethel invested heavily in a new Atomic and Molecular Optics Lab that houses custom built, frequency tunable lasers as well as a Magneto-Optical Trap (MOT) to cool lithium atoms to a few thousandths of a degree above absolute zero.

  • Completely new lab: 650 sq. ft. with computers, sink, and closed-loop chiller system.
  • Two new research-quality 5′×12′ optics tables. Valued at between $10,000 to $15,000 each, these tables are air cushioned and low vibration. (The new tables bring our total to 6 research quality optics tables, a highly unusual number for an undergraduate physics department.)
  • Ultra-high vacuum system, including turbo-molecular pump.
  • Three frequency tunable lasers: two CO2 IR and one CO laser—custom made, donated by NIST.
  • Coherent argon-ion laser—donated by TSI, St. Paul, Minn.
  • External Cavity Tunable Diode System--Extremely small bandwidth laser systems (632–637 nm) ideal for telecommunications, laser spectroscopy, coherence studies, and metrology applications. Uses computer control and LabVIEW operation.


Bethel physics is now investing (over $100,000 to date) in a new advanced NanoLab for nanotechnology, optics, microfluidics, microfabrication, applied physics, sensors, and materials science research.

  • Two research-grade Nikon microscopes: one inverted and one upright. The microscopes are customized with lasers, filters, cameras, spectrometers, and holographic projectors for fine-tuned and exquisitely sensitive imaging measurements.
  • Nano-positioning stages for atomic force microscopy and lithography.
  • Ultra-sensitive electron multiplication CCD camera for near single photon imaging.
  • Ultra-sensitive imaging spectrometer for low-light and single molecule imaging and spectroscopy.
  • Optical components and spatial light modulator for computer controlled holography.
  • Class 100 laminar flow bench for nanotechnology research.
  • Large wet bench and fume hood for chemical processing and nanofabrication.
  • Compact high vacuum thermal evaporator for materials deposition.
  • Custom built Nanofabrication and Microfabrication instruments and characterization equipment.

Other Advanced Lab Spaces

  • Newly re-equipped Electronics Lab--7 benches, each with new Multimeters, DC Power Supplies, Function Generators, Oscillo-scopes, and PCs with Core 2 Quad at 2.8 GHz and 8 GB RAM.
  • Site licenses for LabVIEW computer interface software (and interface boards), COMSOL Multi-physics Computer Simulation Software, MATLAB, and Mathematica—all industry standards.

Off-campus Research

Not only are there research opportunities at Bethel, but we also place students in external research environments.

We probably average about 10 students at a time working for 3M, Medtronic, Honeywell, Logic, or other high-tech companies in the Twin Cities. In addition, there have been 6 students who worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for a summer or a semester (or both), 7 students who spent a summer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and 3 at Caltech; 2 others were among a handful of students in the U.S. chosen to receive a summer fellowship at CERN (Switzerland), and others who have spent summers at Argonne National Lab. Most students were supported financially by prestigious SERS awards from the U.S. Department of Energy.


Our research has been supported, among others, by grants and awards from:

  • NASA
  • 3M
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • National Science Foundation
  • United States Air Force
  • McKnight Foundation
  • Blandin Foundation
  • TSI Inc.
  • Simulation Technologies Inc.
  • Rice University, the American Physical Society
  • University of Minnesota
  • Council on Independent Colleges