FPS-Hosted Sessions at the APS March Meeting

Larry Woolf, Brian Schwartz, and Philip Taylor

The annual APS March meeting was held in Portland, OR, 15-19 March, 2010. The Forum on Physics & Society hosted or co-hosted three sessions on a variety of topics including interesting middle-school children in science, opportunities for research and employment in transportation science, and Physics, Culture, and the Arts. The following paragraphs briefly summarize the papers presented. The complete scientific program of the meeting can be found at http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/MAR10/Content/1812.

Session B3: How to Interest Middle School Children in Physical Science. This session was co-sponsored with the Forum on Education and was chaired by Lawrence Woolf. The first talk was by Marcia Barbosa (Universidad Federal do Rio Grand do Sul, Brazil) recipient of the Nicholson Medal for Human Outreach, who spoke on "Attracting girls to physics: the itinerant science project." In Brazil, the percentage of women undergraduate physics majors is below 20%. In order to attract girls to physics, a science van was created that visits suburbs as well as the underdeveloped areas of the city. During these visits, children are exposed to the applications of physics to the real world, much of it involving kitchen appliances. They have the chance to manipulate experiments and to learn how they are related to real life technology. After playing with the experiments, they answer a simple questionnaire designed to evaluate how their views about physics have changed due to this experience. When questioned about the change in their perception regarding physics after being exposed to the experiments, the girls showed a more significant change in having a positive perception than did the boys.

The next speaker was Margaret McMahan Norris (Black Hills State University), who spoke on "Introducing Deep Underground Science to Middle Schoolers: Challenges and Rewards." She described how work is in progress to define the mission, vision, scope and preliminary design of the Sanford Center for Science Education (SCSE), the education arm of the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL), a proposed major research facility of the National Science Foundation. If final funding is approved, DUSEL will be built at the site of the former Homestake Gold Mine in Lead, South Dakota, beginning in 2012. The SCSE is envisioned to serve as a model for the integration of a science education center into the fabric of a new national laboratory. Its broad mission is to share the excitement and promise of deep underground science and engineering at Homestake with learners of all ages worldwide. The science to be pursued at DUSEL, whether in physics, astronomy, geomicrobiology, or geoscience, is transformational and will spark the imagination of learners of all ages. While the SCSE is under design, an early education program has been initiated that is designed to build capacity for the envisioned center, to prototype individual programs, and to build partnerships and community support. One of the more interesting challenges discussed during this talk was the challenge of education outreach for the significant numbers of K-12 students who learn in one-room schoolhouses in rural parts of South Dakota.

The third speaker was Raymond Vandiver (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry), who spoke on "Creating Engaging Science Learning Experiences for Middle School Students Through Museum Exhibits." He related that the science education community recognizes that reaching middle school students is important because this age is often a turning point when students decide not to pursue further math and science education. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), together with experts in informal science education from the science museum community, has developed exhibits and supporting programming that promote positive attitudes toward math and science learning by providing engaging experiences in meaningful contexts in which students can develop science process skills and see the relevance of science to their daily lives. A key part of science exhibits for middle school students involves design challenges. The presenter brought along a collimated air fan and demonstrated an example of a design challenge where students cut and shaped small plastic cups and tried to make them stay up as long as possible.

Amber Stuver of the LIGO Livingston Observatory then spoke on "Immersing Southeastern Louisiana Middle School Students in Physics at the LIGO Livingston Science Education Center." The LIGO Science Education Center (SEC) is located adjacent to the LIGO Livingston Observatory and brings the excitement of gravitational wave science to Southeastern Louisiana. While the SEC offers programs targeted for middle school students, they also offer programs for students through post-secondary levels, teacher professional development, and the public. Programs are LIGO related inquiry-based activities and include guided investigations in their classroom and free exploration of the more than 40 hands-on exhibits in the exhibit hall (most built by the Exploratorium). Students also get to visit the working LIGO observatory to interact with scientists and to see the science concepts they are learning in action. The LIGO SEC is the result of the unique collaboration between a museum (The Exploratorium), science laboratory (LIGO), university (Southern University-Baton Rouge) and local education agencies (LaSIP and LaGEAR-UP) to scaffold this outreach. The SEC also serves as a test bed for educational research through collaboration with a Tulane University psychology faculty member. New initiatives of the SEC include developing programs of repeated engagement with teachers through professional development and with students through field trips in order to undertake longitudinal studies on the impact of the informal education environment.

Robert Butler of the University of Portland then spoke on "Teachers on the Leading Edge: A Place-Based Professional Development Program for K-12 Earth Science Teachers."

Teachers on the Leading Edge (TOTLE) is an Earth Science teacher professional development program featuring Pacific Northwest active continental margin geology. To engage middle-school teachers and students, TOTLE workshops: (1) invite novice learners to geophysical studies of tectonics, earthquakes, and volcanoes; (2) provide access to EarthScope research; and (3) explain geologic hazards as understandable aspects of living on the "leading edge" of the North American continent. Fundamental concepts and observations progress from global patterns, to regional context, and then to local applications. For example, earthquakes are concentrated near tectonic plate boundaries such as the Cascadia subduction zone between the Juan de Fuca and North American plates. Earthquake hazards include liquefaction and landslides that are affected by regional and local geology; relative earthquake hazard maps then provide comparisons of hazards on county, city, and neighborhood scales. Inquiry-based field investigation of coastal ghost forests and Cascadia tsunami geology stimulates learning about Cascadia great earthquakes and tsunamis and provides a case study of scientific discovery. Field studies of volcanic mudflow deposits from Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier highlight volcanic hazards to rapidly increasing populations that live near recently active Cascade volcanoes. The program emphasizes the importance of infrastructure engineering and emergency preparedness in preventing geologic hazards damage, injuries, and deaths in order to: (1) demonstrate how Geoscience research leads to improved engineering designs that mitigate hazards; (2) align lessons with national and state K-12 science education standards that focus on science, technology, and societal connections; and (3) avoid fatalism and develop a culture of geologic hazards awareness among future citizens of the Pacific Northwest.

Session H8: Opportunities for Research and Employment in Transportation Science. This session was chaired by Brian Schwartz and featured four talks. The city of Portland and its metropolitan area are considered as one of the most innovative regions in the country with respect to transportation planning, initiatives and implementations. Quite often the planning involves a good understanding of the nature of interacting systems plus techniques on the analysis and modeling of competing social, economic and urban concerns. Papers presented at this session dealt with various of these concerns.

The first talk was entitled "The Science of Transportation Analysis and Simulation." This was presented by John Gleibe, Assistant Professor, Department of Urban Planning at Portland State University. He noted that transportation science involves methods developed to model and analyze the interaction between human behavior and transportation systems. From the human behavioral, or demand, perspective, the interest is in how individuals and households organize their activities across space and time, with travel viewed as an enabling activity. By including constraints of household budgets and land use systems and regional economics and business development, one can develop complex structural econometric modeling systems as well as simulations. From the transportation systems, or supply, perspective, one is interested in the level of service provide by transportation facilities, be it auto, transit or multi-modal systems. This has led to the development of network models and equilibrium concepts as well as hybrid simulation systems based on concepts borrowed from physics, such as fluid flow models and cellular automata-type models. The presentation included representative sample of these methods and their use in transportation planning and public policy analysis.

The second talk was "The Physics of Traffic Congestion and Road Pricing in Transportation Planning," by David Levinson,Associate Professor and Richard P. Braun/CTS Chair in Transportation Engineering, Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Minnesota (http://nexus.umn.edu/ and http://nexus.umn.edu/Papers/CordonPricingOvercrowding.pdf). The presenter has a background in economics and civil engineering and has published papers on the physics of congestion theory and congestion pricing. Using game theory techniques, with a simple two-player game, he shows that the emergence of congestion depends on the players' relative valuations of early arrival, late arrival, and journey delay. Congestion pricing can be used as a cooperation mechanism to minimize total costs (for N players). To illustrate the concept he presented a solutions for N = 7. This model is compared to the bottleneck model. The results of numerical simulation show that the two models yield identical results in terms of lowest total costs and marginal costs when a social optimum exists. Two types of product differentiation in the presence of toll roads, path differentiation and space differentiation, are defined and measured for a base case. The findings favor a fixed-rate road pricing policy compared to complete pricing freedom on toll roads.

The third talk, "The Changing Science of Urban Transportation Planning," was presented by Tom Kloster, Regional Transportation Planning Manager, Oregon Metro (www.oregonmetro.gov, and http://www.greatstreets.org/index.html). Tom is a native of Portland and has worked as a city planner in the Portland area for 18 years. He has been concerned with putting "community" back into city planning. The last half of the 20th Century was the age of the automobile, and the development of bigger and faster roads defined urban planning for more than 50 years. During this period, transportation planners developed sophisticated behavior models to help predict future travel patterns in an attempt to keep pace with ever-growing congestion and public demand for more roads. By the 1990s, however, it was clear that eliminating congestion with new road capacity was an unattainable outcome, and had unintended effects that were never considered when the automobile era first emerged. Today, public expectations are rapidly evolving beyond "building our way out" of congestion toward more complex definitions of desired outcomes. In this new century, Kloster maintains that planners must improve behavior models to predict not only the travel patterns of the future but also the subsequent environmental, social and public health effects associated with growth and changes in travel behavior, and provide alternative transportation solutions that respond to these broader concerns.

The forth talk, "Trends in Transportation Sciences and How to Get a Job in the Industry," was given by Carl Springer, DKS Associates. Carl is a scientist who works in a major transportation planning company with offices throughout the western United States. Originally, transportation sciences were focused on the construction of a national infrastructure of highway facilities. A typical professional in those days was a civil engineer with expertise limited to roadway design, construction and maintenance. Currently, the focus of the profession is much more diverse, encompassing all modes of transport in both rural and urban contexts, and it plays a key role in economic vitality, livability and the environment and thus more diverse talents in science, economics and planning are required. The speaker noted three current trends the affect transportation sciences. First, since the federal interstate system is largely built, there is great interest in developing better understandings of how the system is really used in metropolitan areas, and how to get better value out of it. Second, the movement towards achieving more sustainable urban planning and design requires better models about why people choose to walk, bike, or drive and how they are influenced by accessibility and land uses. Finally, there is a clear trend for putting transportation data in the public's hands to help them better use and evaluate the various transportation modes that are integral to their daily living. Responding to these trends will require new and deeper skills for the transportation professionals including physicists.

Session P7: Physics, Culture and the Arts. This session was chaired by Philip Taylor. At the 2009 March Meeting of the American Physical Society held in Pittsburgh, the FPS organized a session on "Physics meets Art" at which physicists described how they used the methods of experimental and theoretical physics to guide our appreciation and interpretation of art. At the 2010 March Meeting in Portland, the tables were turned, and we heard how those involved with the arts perceive the world of physics and physicists.

The first talk was by David Saltzberg from UCLA, who for the last three years has acted as a physics consultant for the producers of the popular television situation-comedy "The Big Bang Theory'', which features physicists, astronomers, and engineers as its main characters. In his talk "Physics and the making of "The Big Bang" TV Comedy Series," Saltzberg explained how the girlfriend of one of the main characters was the "eyes and ears of the audience" as she tried to understand what the physicists were talking about. His role as science consultant was to fill in gaps in the script with plausible physics jargon and to correct misconceptions and mistakes. He also provided whiteboards covered with equations in logical order, but was sometimes foiled when these whiteboards were displayed in the wrong order.

The second talk, "Science and Sculpture: Physics, Mathematics and Architecture," was given by Michael Burke, a New York sculptor whose training was in architecture and city planning, but who now strives in his work to combine scientific principles with aesthetic goals. He illustrated his talk with photographs of his work, including an installation in an Etruscan tomb and one at the port city of Savona in Italy. He spoke of "seeing a romance in science equivalent to that of art", and showed us a linear array of sculptures that he has entitled "Quantum Stream."

A different direction was taken by Brian Holmes of thephysics department at San Jose State University, whose two-part talk and performance "Understanding Musical Instruments: Composing Updike’s Science" embraced "the physics of music and the music of physics." We learned some facts, previously unknown to the majority of the audience, about the way notes are produced in brass wind instruments. The simple formulas for resonating tubes that we teach in elementary physics courses are a cruder simplification and a more inadequate approximation than most of us had imagined. Who knew that the effective length of a trumpet includes a respectable proportion of the anatomy of the trumpeter? Brian then proceeded to introduce Nan Haemer, a soprano, and Terry Nelson, a pianist, who performed some of his settings of John Updike’s poems on science. The melodies captured well the essence of the poetry, which tended to reflect an attitude of resignation [Thermodynamics – Lament for Cocoa] or mild rebellion [Chemistry – In Praise of (C10H9O5)x]. Updike's mistaken opinion as to the molecular structure of polyethylene terephthalate did not mar our enjoyment.

By Don Prosnitz

Getting the Physics right in Portland. Phil Taylor chaired a jammed Physics and Society session at the APS March Meeting where David Saltzberg explained how he works with the directors of the TV series the Big Bang Theory to make certain that even the white board props have proper physics displayed, and Brian Holmes explained the physics of wind instruments. Then a piece Brian composed for science poems written by the author John Updike was performed by piano and soprano. Later in the meeting at an evening session organized by FPS’s Brian Schwartz and Ivan Schuller, James Kakalios educated and entertained the public with his presentation on the Physics of Super Heroes.

Jodi Lomask, director of the Capacitor Dance Company in San Francisco, then spoke on "Art, Science, and the Choreography of Creative Process." Lomask feels that "dance should speak for itself", but broke this rule to present a talk illustrated with movie clips of some of her productions. (She may have set a precedent for talks at the March Meeting, as her presentation followed a warning that her material showed scenes containing nudity.) Jodi's obsession with the mechanics of the human body found expression in a number of remarkable ways; some dancers leaned back against elastic harnesses, while some explored the inside of a spherical frame to depict Earth's convecting interior. She closed with an extraordinarily articulate essay on bringing artists and scientists together to work creatively. It is worth quoting, almost in its entirety:

"It is important for the artist to respect the scientist they work with enough to truly investigate and understand their area of research. The mental discipline this requires is good for the artist. It excites the mind and the act of comprehension stimulates creativity.

"It is important for the scientist who works with artist, to give him space to make his greatest work, without asking the artist to be precise, factual, or accurate – understanding that although the overarching goal of both disciplines may be the same – to locate truths - the process and product for each profession is gravely different and therefore warrants different priorities.

"Scientists become better communicators when they need to explain their work to people outside their field. They also get to consider their research from different perspectives, see it reflected in new ways, which leads to potential creative breakthroughs.

"If scientists are interested in sharing their work with larger non-academic audiences, collaborating on an event-driven art piece is a great approach. The artist can give momentum to an area of research that would otherwise be considered inaccessible to larger portions of the population.

"Artists can help people feel and see what they already know and what is already there but they may have forgotten. As a conduit, as a mirror, as a physical representation, a dancer serves as the embodiment of conceptual space. Work with us and we will enrich each other’s process."

Larry Woolf is Principal Optical Scientist and Senior Program Manager at General Atomics. He is currently the chair of the Forum on Education. Brian Schwartz is Professor of Physics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York . His brother Sam, a physics major, was Commissioner of Traffic for New York City, coined the word "gridlock" and runs a major transportation planning company Sam Schwartz Engineering and hires physicists. Philip Taylor is the Perkins Professor of Physics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

These contributions haven not been peer-refereed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of APS.