March 2009 APS Meeting in Pittsburgh

PittsburghThe FEd sponsored or co-sponsored with other APS units 26 invited talks at the Pittsburgh meeting. These talks in invited sessions or leading off a focus session were exciting, informative, and challenging to hear but only reached a fraction of our FEd members and the APS membership as a whole. Yet there is much to learn from these talks. In order that they do not disappear into a "black hole" they are being archived on an APS server. Below are summaries of the sessions with links to the talks, mostly in pdf. There are also animations and movie clips. I hope these will be useful, especially to those who did not attend the meeting, who were at the meeting and missed a particular talk or session, or heard the talk and want a reminder of some of the key points presented. The 5-day meeting, March 16–20, was held in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Session A6: Computational Physics in Research and Teaching: GRC Topics and Themes
Session Chair and Summary: Wolfgang Christian, Davidson College

Focus Session L29: Incorporating Computational Physics into Teaching
Session Chair: James Belak, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

The FEd co-sponsored a number of computational physics education activities with the Division of Computational Physics (DCOMP). Wolfgang Christian, Anne Cox, Harvey Gould, Jan Tobochnik, and Chandralekha Singh led a workshop on "Incorporating Simulations and Computer Modeling into Upper Level Physics Courses" on Sunday March 15. This workshop presented recently developed computer-based curricular materials that improve student understanding of upper-level physics topics and that make many previously inaccessible topics available to undergraduate and graduate students. Participants received a CD containing curricular material from the Open Source Physics (OSP) project and the Quantum Interactive Learning Tutorials (QuILT) project, as well as the Easy Java Simulations (EJS) modeling and authoring tool.

On Monday, the FEd/DCOMP collaboration sponsored invited session A6 on the expanding and deepening role of computers in physics research and instruction, with particular emphasis on undergraduate education. The session was based on the 2008 Physics Research and Education Gordon Research Conference and highlighted current efforts to incorporate computational physics and other computer-based methods (such as simulations and visualizations) into the physics classroom.

"Unstable Periodic Orbits as a Unifying Principle in the Presentation of Dynamical Systems in the Undergraduate Physics Curriculum" by Bruce Boghosian

Simulations from Boghosian's talk:

"Innovations in Teaching with Computers: What Works, What Doesn't, and How We Can Tell" by Bradley Ambrose

"Molecular Dynamics Simulation: A Tool for Exploration and Discovery" by Dennis C. Rapaport

"Computation in the Classroom: Open Source Physics Resources" by Anne Cox

"Astrophysical Computation in Research, the Classroom, and Beyond" by Adam Frank

On Tuesday afternoon, the FEd co-sponsored focus session L29. This session was devoted to the teaching of computational physics at all levels and to current efforts to incorporate computational physics and other computer-based methods (such as simulations and visualizations) into the physics classroom. The session began with an invited talk by Steven Gottlieb titled "One Lattice Gauge Theorist's Perspective on Important Skills and Concepts for Computational Physics Courses."

Twelve contributed talks described the bridge between our framework of understanding for how nature works and experiments or problems that can be subject to experimental examination. Issues concerning textbooks, coverage (both physics and programming), software, and hardware were also addressed.

Session B3: 10,000 Undergraduate Physics Majors: Progress on Doubling
Session Chair and Summary: Robert Hilborn, University of Texas at Dallas

Why Do We Need 10,000 Physics Majors?  Theodore Hodapp, American Physical Society

Hodapp, APS's Director of Education and Diversity provided statistical and policy background that underpins the physics community's effort to increase significantly the number of undergraduate students receiving degrees in physics. The talk also outlined strategies such as the

SPIN-UP report;
PhysTEC project;
Recommended best practices
from APS' Committee on the Status of Women in Physics for addressing some of these issues.

Successful Minority PhD Producing Programs - Bell Laboratories and the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program at UMBC, Anthony Johnson, University of Maryland Baltimore County

Johnson described the successful Bell Labs program for producing more minority Ph.D.s and the Meyerhoff Scholarship program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County that has led to significant increases in the number of minority students majoring in STEM fields at UMBC.

Best Practices for Recruiting and Retaining Women in Physics, Margaret Murnane, University of Colorado

Murnane of the University of Colorado spoke of a list of best practices for recruiting and retaining women in physics.

Doubling the Number of Physics Majors who Teach, Michael Marder, University of Texas at Austin

Marder talked about the UTeach program, which has been successful in increasing the number of undergraduate STEM majors who go into K–12 teaching. That program, started at UT Austin, is now being replicated at 13 colleges and universities across the country. For more details see the UTeach web page.

Integrating Research Experiences into the Undergraduate Education, Wolfgang Bauer, Michigan State University

Bauer described the successful undergraduate research program in physics at Michigan State University and its role in increasing the number of undergraduate physics majors at MSU.

Focus Sessions D29 and H29: The Physics and Astronomy New Faculty Workshops
Session Chair: Robert Hilborn, University of Texas at Dallas

This highly successful program yielded a "flood" of contributions, 21 all told between the two sessions. Session D29 began with an invited paper by Ken Krane of the Department of Physics at Oregon State University:

A Dozen Years and a Thousand Participants: The Workshops for Preparing New Faculty in Physics and Astronomy

Beginning in 1996, an annual workshop for newly hired faculty in physics and astronomy has been held under the organizational leadership of AAPT, APS, and AAS. To date more than 1000 faculty have participated in this workshop, representing approximately 25% of the new hires at all U. S. institutions that award a baccalaureate in physics or astronomy, from 4-year colleges through research universities. The original motivation for the workshops was to improve physics teaching by introducing new faculty to instructional strategies and innovations that had been shown to be effective in a variety of contexts. The need for such a program was suggested in part by the belief that a national mentoring workshop could effectively address a commonality of physics and astronomy teaching challenges that transcended institutional characters and types, and also in part by the reaction to a significant decrease in the number of baccalaureate physics degrees awarded in the U. S. in the 1990s, which many believed was due to ineffective and uninspiring teaching at the undergraduate level and especially in introductory courses. Surveys of the participants (and their department chairs) have shown that a large fraction of the participants have become adopters of innovative teaching techniques and that they rate the workshops as the most significant cause of the improvements in their teaching.

Session J8: Preparing Physics Students for Careers in Industry Jointly sponsored by the FEd and FIAP
Session Chair and Summary: Larry Woolf, General Atomics

The Physics Workforce: The Latest Data on Supply and Demand, Roman Czujko, American Institute of Physics

Czujko began the session with an overflow crowd consisting of a large number of graduate students, clearly indicating their interest in their future employment possibilities. Statistical data were presented on the number of physics degrees awarded each year at the BS, MS, and PhD levels. Also discussed were career paths pursued by physicists at different degree levels, including comparative salaries with other fields. Czujko described the professional master's degree program in physics departments and skills that employers value, concluding with recommendations for departments.

Industrial Physics Careers: A Large Company Perspective, Stephan Zollner, IBM

Zollner's talk began with some interesting statistics on where industrial physicists work and how universities should prepare students for industrial careers. He next discussed different aspects of industrial careers including issues of goals (both organizational and personal), performance, rewards, leadership, results, and behaviors. Based on the NIST Baldridge criteria of Performance Excellence, he then concluded with how to achieve and measure organizational success through a focus on products and customers.

The Rutgers Undergraduate Physics Program: Preparing Students for Varied Careers, Mohan Kalelkar, Rutgers University

Kalelkar described the characteristics of the Rutgers University undergraduate physics program, which offers five main physics major tracks for different careers. The Professional Option is for students planning to go to graduate school in physics, while the Astrophysics Option is for those intent on graduate work in astronomy or astrophysics. The Applied Option focuses on students who desire technical jobs in industry or patent law, or who are engineering double majors. For students with a general interest in physics, there is the General Option. Most recently created is an Ocean Physics Option.

Training PhD Physicists for Industrial Careers: The Industrial Leadership in Physics Program at Georgetown University, Edward Van Keuren, Georgetown University

Van Keuren discussed the unique graduate program designed at Georgetown University to prepare PhD physicists for positions in high-tech businesses. The Industrial Leadership in Physics (ILP) graduate program combines training in technical and business areas with group learning, communication skills, and practical work experience. The ILP program includes a modular curriculum in fundamental physics, centered on solid-state physics, instrumentation, problem solving and computer modeling, a yearlong apprenticeship at an industrial partner, and coursework in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown. He concluded with a discussion of both program challenges and successes.

Session P7: Forging Effective Partnerships with your Local Science Center: Outcomes from the Workshop on University/Science Center Collaborations
Session Chair: Philip Hammer, AIP

Lessons Learned from the APS/TFI Workshop on University/Science Center Collaborations: Outreach Strategies for Faculty Working with their Local Science Museum, David Statman, Allegheny College

On May 31–June 1, 2008, The Franklin Institute hosted the APS/Franklin Institute Workshop on University/Science Center Collaborations. This Workshop brought together leaders from science centers, universities, and federal funding agencies to explore what works and what doesn't work in university–science center collaborations. The goal was to explore the outreach motivations of academic institutions, their scientists and students, the characteristics and needs of small versus large science centers, and the goals for and outcomes expected from reaching out to the general public from the perspectives of universities and science centers. The result was a convergence of viewpoints on how a good collaboration is established, built upon, sustained, and evaluated.

University Perspectives on Science Center/University Interactions, Leo Kadanoff, University of Chicago

A program bringing graduate students into science museums was described. Practical nuts-and-bolts methods for making the program work were outlined. Questions were asked about the somewhat uncomfortable relation between graduate education, research, and informal science education.

University/Science Center Collaborations (A Science Center Perspective): Developing an Infrastructure of Partnerships with Science Centers to Support the Engagement of Scientists and Engineers in Education and Outreach for Broad Impact, Eric Marshall, Strategic Partnerships and Innovation, Director of and Volts (Volunteers TryScience)  

Science centers, professional associations, corporations, and university research centers share the same mission of education and outreach, yet come from "different worlds." This gap may be bridged by working together to leverage unique strengths in partnership. Successful partnerships stem from clearly defined roles and responsibilities. The need for a supportive infrastructure becomes evident. Marshall described examples that exemplify some of the pieces of this evolving infrastructure.

Perspective of NSF-MPS Program Directors on Educational Outreach, Daniele Finotello, NSF

The National Science Foundation Broader Impacts review criterion (often known as Criterion 2) has been subject to much discussion since it was first implemented by NSF. The broader impact of different proposals can vary widely, based on different factors such as the particular research activities proposed, the interests of the PI(s), the type of institution involved in the proposal, and the different opportunities available in the local area, to name just a few. In this talk the Broader Impacts review criterion was discussed from the viewpoint of the NSF Program Officers and included different examples of potential Broader Impact activities.

Session Q6: Physics Demonstrations and Strategies for Teaching and Public Outreach
Session Chair and Summary: Ernest Malamud, University of Nevada, Reno

A major focus of the Forum on Education is to improve the teaching of physics at all levels by connecting researchers and educators. Leading educators from both the formal and informal science education communities showed the audience effective techniques and a variety of strategies for presenting science to both classroom and public audiences. This diverse group of speakers drawn from the wealth of talent in the Pittsburgh area offered March meeting attendees insights into innovative ways of teaching physics.

So, You Want to be a Science Communicator?, John G. Radzilowicz, Director of Visitor Services, Carnegie Science Center

The late Carl Sagan opined that somehow we have managed to create a global civilization dependent on science and technology in which almost no one understands science and technology. This is an unacceptable recipe for disaster with social, political, and financial implications for the future of scientific research. And so, like it or not, popular science communication, more than ever before, is an important and necessary part of the scientific enterprise. What does it take to be a good science communicator? What is needed to develop and deliver meaningful public outreach programs? How do you handle non-technical presentations? And what help is available in developing the necessary skills? The presentation described the essential components of effective science communication aimed at a broad public audience. Radzilowicz paid specific attention to how university-museum partnerships can expand the reach and enhance the quality of public outreach programs.

Public Outreach for the International Year of Astronomy Through Faculty and Science Center Partnerships, Andrew Zentner, University of Pittsburgh.  

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 provides an opportunity to jump-start public education and outreach programs and to engage the community in a fascinating field. In his talk, Zentner discussed a diverse program of education and outreach designed and implemented as a collaborative effort between the Astronomy faculty at the University of Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Science Center and highlighted some of the unique benefits of such a partnership and some of the unique events such a partnership enables.

Public Education and Outreach Through Full-Dome Video Technology, John Pollock, Duquesne University

Pollock began his talk with the long-term goal of enhancing public understanding of complex systems through richly detailed computer graphic animations displayed with full-dome video technology. His current focus is on health science advances in regenerative medicine and he used that to illustrate available technologies and approaches. Visually rich, accurate 3D computer graphic environments are created. A suite of films have been produced, and evaluated. While the images are rich and detailed, the language is accessible and appropriate to the audience. The digital, high-definition video is also re-edited for presentation in other "flat screen" formats, increasing the distribution potential. Show content is also presented in an interactive web space with complementing teacher resource guides and student workbooks and companion video games.

A New Approach to A Science Magnet School—Classroom and Museum Integration, Samuel Franklin, Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy

The Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, a new school, is a place where any student with an interest in science, technology, engineering, or math can develop skills for a career in life sciences, environmental sciences, computing, or engineering.  The curriculum is tailored to students who have a passion for science, technology, engineering, or math. This talk explained the unique features of the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, lessons learned from its two-year design process, and the role that the Carnegie Museums have played and will continue to play as the school opens and then grows.

Fractured Physics and the Great Color Caper: Large Scale Physics Outreach, Mike Hennessy, Carnegie Science Center

Hennessey described the successful Carnegie Science Center's Science on the road program and then presented several interesting demonstrations illustrating basic physics concepts.

Session T29: xperiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program: Overview and Perspectives
Session Chair and Summary: Cathy Mader, Hope College

This focus session concerned the National Science Foundation's Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program. The perspectives of directors of REU programs, faculty who supervised undergraduates in REU programs, and students who participated in REU programs were presented. An overview of the program and a description of the recent REU Directors Workshop were also included.

Physics NSF-REU Site Director Workshop: What did we learn and what questions remain?
Mario Affatigato, Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Session T29 began with a presentation by Dr. Mario Affatigato, the PI of the Coe College Physics REU Site and a member of the steering committee for the NSF Physics REU Site Director Workshop. Dr. Affatigato spoke on the 2008 workshop, which was attended by representatives from 36 of the over 50 NSF Physics REU sites as well as representatives from several national professional societies for Physicists. The workshop format allowed participants to discuss both effective practices in the current REU programs as well as to learn more about effective practices in programs outside of the NSF REU Physics Sites. In particular, the participants learned about current results in assessment of undergraduate research experiences and programs that have increased the diversity in undergraduate research programs from other disciplines and discussed how to adapt/adopt these ideas for Physics REU sites.

Link to a more complete summary of this interesting and important session by Cathy Mader.

Disclaimer - The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of APS.