June 2018 Gordon Research Conference: Physics Research and Education – “Energy as a Subtle Concept”

Nancy Ruzycki, University of Florida
Dawn Meredith, University of New Hampshire

The Gordon Research Conference: Physics Research and Education has been bringing together a community of researchers, educators, and education researchers since 2000. This conference is unique among the GRC’s due to the focus on education and the connection between cutting edge research and how we make this work accessible to our students. Every two years this conference brings together leaders in a content area of physics, leaders in physics education, and leaders in physics education research. Although the underlying theme of Physics Research and Education is a common thread for this GRC, every two years the focus of the meeting changes. The June 10-15, 2018 conference at Bryant College in Smithfield, RI will focus on energy.

The teaching of energy is generally considered by physicists to be an important core concept to understand the material world. Educators at all levels teach basic concepts of energy to students; however, many of the core energy ideas taught to students are not consistent within the physics community, or between physics and other disciplines like life science and chemistry. Energy is sometimes regarded solely as an accounting principle, a calculated quantity representing an abstract idea, not a physical construct. Unlike matter, it is difficult for students to construct a physical representation of energy, and they often struggle to understand energy as a conserved quantity. As Richard Feynman noted in a speech to teachers; “Energy is a very subtle concept. It is very, very difficult to get right.”1

This PRE GRC will have both researchers and educators as speakers. See our website (https://www.grc.org/physics-research-and-education-conference/2018/) for the program details.

The energy researchers will share some of the cutting-edge topics in energy research – from energy harvesting to energy flow modeling. There are many transformative topics in energy research which could be used as application examples in the teaching of undergraduate physics students, and the public.

The education speakers will look at the teaching of energy from several perspectives: embodied cognition, conceptual metaphors,2 how to present a more coherent understanding of energy across the disciplines of chemistry, biology, and physics3,4 and resources and students’ productive ideas about energy.5,6

This year, for the first time, the GRC will be preceded on Saturday and Sunday by a Gordon Research Seminar (GRS), whose purpose is to give junior researchers (graduate students through Assistant Professors) a forum to discuss their work and work with mentors. The GRS website https://www.grc.org/programs.aspx?id=17679 has details of the program.

For those not familiar with Gordon conferences, the format of the GRC conferences promote open discussion and community building. Afternoons are free each day for in-depth conversations, attendance is capped at 200 to promote a sense of community, and the GRC “off the record” policy for all communication encourages and protects open communication about new ideas.

Generous contributions towards the funding of this conference has been provided by the APS Forum on Education, the Gordon Research Conferences, and NSF Grant 1744229. A continuously updated list of sponsors is available on our website https://www.grc.org/physics-research-and-education-conference/2018/.

Nancy Ruzycki (nruzycki@mse.ufl.edu) and Dawn Meredith (dawn.meredith@unh.edu) are co-chairs of the 2018 GRC on Physics Research and Education. The co-vice chairs are Drs. Shane Larson (s.larson@northwestern.edu, Northwestern University) and Sean Robinson (spatrick@mit.edu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The GRS co-chairs are Serena Eley (seley@lanl.gov, Los Alamos National Lab) and Daryl McPadden (dmcpadden621@gmail.com, Florida International University).


1. Richard Feynman, Address "What is Science?", presented at the fifteenth annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association, in New York City (1966), published in The Physics Teacher, volume 7, issue 6 (1969), p. 313-320, http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.2351388

2. Tamer G. Amin, Fredrik Jeppsson, and Jesper Haglund, “Conceptual Metaphor and Embodied Cognition in Science Learning: Introduction to special issue.” International Journal of Science Education, 37:5-6 (2015), 745-758, DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2015.1025245.

3. Melanie Cooper and Michael W. Klymkowski, “The Trouble with Chemical Energy: Why Understanding Bond Energies Requires an Interdisciplinary Systems Approach.” CBE – Life Science Education, 12 (2013): 306-312.

4. B. W. Dreyfus, B. D. Geller, J. Gouvea, V. Sawtelle, C. Turpen, C., and E. F. Redish, “Ontological metaphors for negative energy in an interdisciplinary context.” Phys. Rev. ST - Phys. Educ. Res., 10 (2014): 020108.

5. Benedikt W. Harrer, Virginia J. Flood, and Michael C. Wittmann, “Productive resources in students' ideas about energy: An alternative analysis of Watts' original interview transcripts.” Phys. Rev. ST - Phys. Educ. Res., 9 (2013): 023101-1 023101-5.

6. Hannah C. Sabo, Lisa M. Goodhew, and Amy D. Robertson, “University student conceptual resources for understanding energy.” Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 12 (2016): 010126-1.

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 the APS.