APS News

APS, AIP, and AAPT Launch Task Force on Undergrad Physics

The APS, the American Institute of Physics (AIP), and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) have announced the formation of a National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics. The eleven-member Task Force will be chaired by Robert C. Hilborn, Amanda and Lisa Cross Professor of Physics at Amherst College and former President of AAPT.

"There have been dramatic changes in the environment for undergraduate physics in colleges and universities across the nation," says Hilborn. "The field itself has changed dramatically in the past thirty years with many new sub-disciplines not represented in today's undergraduate physics curriculum." He points out that the number of undergraduate physics majors is now at a forty year low, and the accrediting criteria for engineering programs (ABET 2000) no longer require a year of undergraduate physics. "The Task Force's job is to provide advice to the physics organizations and to the physics community at large about constructive and creative responses to those changes," says Hilborn.

The Task Force will coordinate a number of efforts aimed at advancing undergraduate physics programs. The emphasis is on the undergraduate program as a whole: introductory and advanced courses for all students, preparation of K-12 teachers, undergraduate research opportunities, and the recruitment and mentoring of students for diverse careers. Among the current APS/AAPT/AIP projects which exemplify the objectives of the Task Force are the NSF-funded New Physics Faculty Workshops, designed to help new physics faculty become familiar with innovative pedagogy, and a series of Physics Department Chairs meetings to encourage physics departments to act collectively to improve undergraduate physics programs.

During the next few months, Task Force members will visit several physics departments to learn how departments are planning for and implementing innovations in their undergraduate programs. The goal is to put together a catalog of case studies with analysis of departments that have developed thriving undergraduate programs. The Task Force will also work with similar education groups in other disciplines and with various funding agencies to coordinate efforts to improve undergraduate science, mathematics, and engineering education.

The other Task Force members are J. D. Garcia (University of Arizona), Ruth H. Howes (Ball State University), Karen Johnston (North Carolina State University), Kenneth S. Krane (Oregon State University), Laurie McNeil (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill), Jose P. Mestre (University of Massachusetts-Amherst), Thomas L. O'Kuma (Lee College), Douglas D. Osheroff (Stanford University), Carl Wieman (University of Colorado), and David T. Wilkinson (Princeton University). The Exxon-Mobil Education Foundation has provided a Planning Grant to assist the Task Force in its first year of activities and to supplement the support from AIP, APS, and AAPT.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette