FEd December 1997 Newsletter - Editor's Challenge

December 1997



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Editor's Challenge

Stan Jones (editor of spring newsletter)

In an effort to promote a dialog within the pages of this newsletter, to use it as a forum, so to speak, I present the following two challenges to you, the reader. I invite your comments which will be printed, summarized, rebutted, or otherwise addressed in the next issue, which I will be editing. Both challenges have to do with proposed (or implemented) changes in the physics curriculum.

1. In an article that appeared in Physics Today about two years ago [December 1995, p. 25], Sol M. Gruner and his co-authors presented the thesis that our physics departments have not kept up with the times. They propose that we need to be much broader-minded about what we define as physics, and to encourage academic departments to foster new non-mainstream areas of research and education. While this article has already sparked an exchange within the letters columns of Physics Today, it is perhaps worth revisiting the issues that Gruner et al. raise. Is it appropriate for departments to promote new interdisciplinary research in areas not traditionally considered physics, and if so, how can this transition in attitudes and practices be facilitated? Is it a defensible strategy to broaden training for graduate students when traditional job opportunities are flagging? What changes are needed in the graduate curriculum?

2. In the summer issue of this newsletter, Joe Pifer described efforts at Rutgers University that have dramatically increased the number of undergraduate physics majors. One of these is the introduction of a liberal arts physics major. This struck me as controversial. Just what is a liberal arts physics degree, and is this a good game for physics departments to be getting into? Readers are always invited to react to articles in this newsletter with letters to the editor; for the sake of generating some discussion, I ask you to give me your reaction to the idea of a liberal arts physics degree.

Stan Jones edits the Spring issue of this newsletter. His address appears on the last page.