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Thomas Rossing

* “Primal Inquiry: Making Stuff Work”: is the title of a thoughtful guest editorial by Dick Peterson in the February issue of The Physics Teacher. In this age of LabView and sophisticated computer control, it is the "nuts and bolts" of experimental physics that help make it such a satisfying discipline. Many students get the biggest kick out of building apparatus and making it work.

* Einstein's life and work are the theme of the February issue of Physics World. His five 1905 papers, which we celebrate, are given special attention, as are his contributions to special and general relativity. A short essay discusses his love for music.

* A thoughtful editorial by Roger Bybee and Donald Kennedy on the “Trends in Mathematics and Science Study” (TIMMS) tests for 2003 appears in the January 28 issue of Science. Comparative data for both grades 4 and 8 reveal a virtual monopoly on high scores by Asia, including Singapore and Korea. Several European nations cluster below them, with the US falling well below. Scores of 8th graders in the US showed improvement between 1995 and 2003, and the performance by African-American and Hispanic students demonstrated a greater improvement. The results suggest giving greater emphasis to voluntary national standards for math and science education.

* Over the last decade many universities in the United Kingdom have closed their physics and chemistry departments for financial reasons. Now less than half of all UK universities offer undergraduate chemistry degrees, according to a report in the February 4 issue of Science. Physics has suffered a similar decline. Although lack of funding is a major factor, physical sciences are not as popular among prospective university students as they once were. Britain's school system has long had a problem attracting science graduates into teaching. As a result, few high school pupils are taught physics and chemistry by teachers with degrees in these subjects.

* The January 20 issue of Nature includes a 50-page supplement on the World Year of Physics celebration. The supplement includes commentaries, essays, and review articles by leading scholars. "In search of symmetry lost" by Frank Wilczek is especially impressive, and the supplement winds up with comments on Einstein's search for a unified theory ("a theory of everything") by Gerard t'Hooft, Steven Weinberg, Roger Penrose, and others.

* Women in physics match men in success, according to a story in the February 22 issue of The New York Times. An AIP report suggests that after they receive a bachelor's degree in physics, American women are just as successful as men at making their way up the academic ladder. Statistics show no indication of discrimination in the hiring of female physicists or women dropping out of the field at a higher rate than men. The main reason fewer women make it to the top in physics is simply that fewer start at the bottom. At top-tier universities, the percentage of female physics professors is low because many current professors earned the PhDs in the 1970s or earlier when the field was almost entirely male and have not yet retired.

The sex disparity arises earlier in the pipeline, between high school and college. Nearly half of students taking high school physics are girls, but fewer than a quarter of the bachelor's degrees in physics go to women. The situation appears to be different in some others sciences, such as chemistry, where women earn a larger percentage of doctoral degrees but leave academia at a higher rate than men.