From the Chair

Larry Woolf

In this article, my last as chair, I want to again bifurcate and include both Forum on Education (FEd) business as well as some personal views on physics education. First, let’s get down to business.

Both the March and April meetings are imminent and I again want to thank the FEd Program Chair Chandralekha Singh, the FEd program committee, and all the session organizers for putting together a fine collection of invited sessions and speakers. Also thanks to Renee Diehl and her Nominating Committee for assembling an outstanding slate of candidates for the FEd Executive Committee and also thanks to the nominees for running. I want to thank Peter Collings, chair of the Fellowship committee and his team for their efforts, which are described in Peter’s article. And, as always, thanks to Bruce Mason, our very hard working Secretary/Treasurer for the past 6 years, for keeping the wheels of the Forum turning smoothly. I want to extend my appreciation to Paul Dolan for editing this newsletter. Paul is one of the many volunteers that make the FEd and the APS successful organizations. If you’d like to join the FEd family, we’re currently looking for a newsletter editor for the Fall 2011 issue. Finally, I’d like to congratulate the new Fellows sponsored by the FEd.

One issue discussed extensively by FEd Executive Committee members over the past few months concerned the recently approved Forum on Outreach and Engaging the Public. Education outreach has long been one of the focus areas of the FEd, so members were concerned about the effect of this new Forum on that part of the FEd’s mission. While the details are still not finalized, it seems clear that we will work in a complementary and cooperative way with this new Forum.

Now for the personal views. Although new social media and web based materials cover a wide variety of topics, I have been an ardent reader of physics and other scientific popular books for many decades. The popularization of science via books may be in a golden age, with many prominent scientists contributing, even as the book publishing industry is stressed. Many outstanding books cover areas rarely discussed, but nevertheless useful, in typical physics or science courses. Popular expositions can extend student’s understanding of science into areas such as the intertwined history of science, the personal and messy nature of scientific discovery, the relationship of science to technology and society; they can even improve conceptual understanding. Books can also educate and excite the public about science. Some of my favorites: In the Biographical category: All of Richard Feynman’s books, especially Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman (one of the rare books that I’ve read twice) and Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up by KC Cole, the unique life of the creator of the Exploratorium. For history: The Maxwellians by Bruce J. Hunt and Oliver Heaviside by Paul J. Nahin, both accounts dealing with the genesis and early use of Maxwell’s equations and their application to solving problems in telegraphy; Longitude by Dava Sobel; The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes; and The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean. For physics topics, my favorite books are Clouds in a Glass of Beer and What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks by Craig Bohren. These books provided a deeper conceptual understanding of the optical properties of materials than from any of my optics courses. For other areas of science: Full House and Bully for Brontosaurus by Stephen Jay Gould (and most of his other books), The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, Life’s Matrix by Philip Ball, Chaos by James Gleick, and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

Science stories are part of many K-8 science curricula, extending and elaborating on the science learned. The Lawrence Hall of Science FOSS program has science stories for K-6, and readings in the student resource books for grades 6-8 (Ref 1). It may be useful to consider popular science books for more advanced science and physics courses, such as at the high school or even college level. One could also imagine using popular science books as curricula for English classes, instead of some fiction, co-taught with science classes.

If you are using science books to complement your physics courses, consider writing an article about your experiences for the FEd newsletter. Or if you have personal favorites to share with others, consider writing a short note. Our summer newsletter editor, Nic Rady, will welcome your contributions.

It has been my pleasure to chair the Forum on Education during the past year. I leave this post secure with the knowledge that the next year with be a successful one with the very capable Chandralekha Singh at the helm.

Reference 1. FOSS Components

Larry Woolf is principal optical scientist and senior program manager at General Atomics, where he has been active in education activities since 1992, mostly focused on K - 12 science.

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.