“Intro to Machine Shop,” Sponsored by the Department of Physics & Astronomy

In this three-week interterm class students learn the basics of working with metal. They are introduced to the safe operation of metal lathes, milling machines, drill presses, grinders as well as other equipment, and learn the proper use of hand tools and precision measuring instruments.

The Machine Shop, located in the Science Center, is an integral support structure for the sciences at Amherst College. Its primary role is to support the Physics and Astronomy department, Chemistry department, and any other departments needing assistance with their experimental needs. In many cases, specialized equipment needed for experimentation is impractical to purchase, as lead times can be long and purchase prices extremely high. The Amherst College Machine Shop supports the sciences by being able to build very precise and highly specialized equipment with much shorter lead times.

Over a century ago, physicists at Amherst College realized that it was essential to have a machine shop in the department if they were going to have tailor-made equipment essential to maintaining leadership in education and research.  Special apparatus had to be manufactured here due to the lack of availability in purchasing.  In 1924, the college purchased some of the finest machine tools available at the time (many are still in use today) and established the first machine shop at the college.  The shop was located in the basement of Fayerweather, which had been a blacksmith shop. The local blacksmith, under a formal agreement with the college, did smithing in exchange for rent.  Physics students probably got their projects after Dobbin got his shoes.

Sometime later, a second shop was created to allow physics faculty and students a place to build and repair apparatus without interfering with professional shop employees.  This student/faculty shop has had more machine tools added over the years and still serves physics students and faculty for which it was initially intended.

                Currently, the machine shop has some of those older machines as well as some modern computerized machines to help aid with the demands placed upon the machine shop and the laboratories that are supported. The shop is located on the ground floor of the Science Center.

Get a glimpse of the machine shop

Interested in courses? Check out the course offering over January

Check out student-made projects