Physics Instructional Resource Association

An Introduction to PIRA (Physics Instructional Resource Association)

Dale Stille

Physics Instructional Resource AssociationPIRA is an association of professionals dedicated to the support and advancement of physics education. Since 1986 we have worked together and in alliance with physics educators and support specialists to develop effective teaching tools and techniques to aid and promote physics education. Specifically, PIRA promoted and allowed the sharing of ideas on both physics labs and demonstrations, the teaching tools with which many of our group were involved in for their respective professions mostly at the college or University level. Since this beginning, PIRA has grown into an association of members including lecture demonstration specialists, instructional laboratory specialists, physics outreach specialists, teachers, professors, public outreach specialists, community outreach coordinators, and others. We support the sharing of teaching ideas and physics education and outreach efforts in elementary schools, high schools, community colleges, and universities. Although most members reside in the United States, PIRA is now truly a global association.

PIRA is also an affiliate of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). As such PIRA sponsors several workshops and talks at the annual AAPT national meetings. These workshops or sessions are presented by knowledgeable, accomplished professionals and offer current and relevant information to those who support physics education and outreach. The sponsored workshops and talks are excellent opportunities for professional development. We've now started branching out this effort by giving local workshops for area AAPT groups, national joint APS/AAPT meetings, and also by giving these workshops at local or National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) meetings, the largest organizations of science teachers in the US. Though we'll always be part of AAPT, we feel the need to share this expertise wherever it may be useful. However, many of our members are also members of APS or have been involved in APS outreach programs for many years. In fact almost all of our membership participated in the APS 2005 World Year of Physics initiative in one form or another and a significant number of those people continue to cultivate that connection by participating in other APS initiatives such as the recent LaserFest outreach celebrations.

The free exchange of knowledge and ideas, and the willingness to support colleagues whenever possible are hallmarks of the PIRA organization. Nowhere is this more evident than on the Tap-l list-serve. Primarily devoted to discussions of demonstrations, labs, demonstration apparatus, and laboratory equipment, members are encouraged to post questions when the need arises and to contribute whenever they can. We pride ourselves on providing information and answers very quickly. Information on how to join the list-serve can be found at our website listed below. 

One of PIRA's most important contributions to physics education is the PIRA Demonstration Bibliography. The demonstration bibliography is a compilation of thousands of referenced demonstrations, all categorized according to physics concept. The bibliography, available in book form and on the web, is an invaluable asset to anyone involved in the use, acquisition, and organization of physics demonstrations.

A recent popular addition to our website has been the “What the heck is THIS?” section devoted to Antique Physics Apparatus. If you have some old equipment in the classroom, storeroom, or that dark back corner that you can't identify you should send us a picture. Tom Greenslade, Jr., the grand master of antique apparatus identification will happily process your request.

The PIRA web site can be found at If you are interested in advancing and promoting physics education and outreach please consider a membership in PIRA and/or feel free to contact us if you have any questions about PIRA and how we can help you!

Dale Stille can be found setting up & performing your favorite physics demonstration daily at the University of Iowa, as well at at AAPT and PIRA meetings, and at various Outreach locations.

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.