Archived Newsletters

Comments from the Chair

Beverly K. Hartline

The theme of this newletter issue is the need to create opportunities to educate diverse populations on the importance and motivation of physics and research. This effort goes beyond traditional scientific information exchange in technical publications and at professional conferences where the focus is on the results of the research, and everyone speaks the language of science. Education of this type can help the average person or student to understand why we invest our professional lives and creative energies in our seemingly esoteric physics niches. Efforts to share our interest and enthusiasm in a way that "lay persons" can grasp and appreciate are bound to increase the constituency for physics and science. It is even possible that we may gain unanticipated and useful insights from dialog with nonphysicists about possible applications of our research, similar phenomena in other fields, or novel perspectives on our methods and data. Each of us has or can readily create such opportunities to market the value and excitement of our field.

Ivan Schuller describes how college and university faculty can use their time in introductory or "survey" physics classes to educate students about physics research. The idea is to give at least one lecture on physics research in general, its benefits to humanity, and the professor's specialty. Joel Snow brings to life the concept of the "civic scientist". He describes ways to reach and mingle with community members, politicians, and others who are somewhat estranged from science, and offers guidelines on how to educate these people.

You can read also about the successful poster sessions for undergraduate research FEd sponsored at the 1996 March and May APS meetings. Already, the Division of Plasma Physics (DPP) has scheduled a similar session at its upcoming annual meeting in November. To remove barriers to undergraduate attendees, the DPP has waived registration costs, scheduled the session near the weekend, and the session organizer is pairing roomates. At the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (formerly CEBAF), where I work, we're about to start our eighth year of free monthly public lectures on various scientific topics. The audience averages about 250 people, mostly middle and high school students, and the programs are broadcast later by community access cable TV stations about twice a day year round.

We hope you will find ideas here that you can replicate to enlighten nonscientists in your region. Better yet, we would welcome a letter or article describing your own outreach successes.

With cooperation from APS Divisions, AAPT, and other fora, FEd tried two other significant experiments in St. Louis and Indianapolis: invited sessions on "Frontiers in Physics Research" and "Frontiers in Physics Education." In terms of interest level, presentation quality, attendance, and value to people with a broad range of backgrounds, these experiments exceeded my expectations. FEd plans to continue them at future annual meetings.

My challenge to the Forum membership is to get your divisions and sections to sponsor student poster sessions, evening public lectures, and/or "frontiers" sessions at their major meetings. Since these meetings are geographically dispersed, they become a viable method for:

  • Bringing the excitement of physics to many neighborhoods
  • Giving undergraduate students (and perhaps advanced high school students) from nearby communities a chance to discuss their own physics research with practicing physicists, including leaders in the field
  • Providing local high school teachers with access to information on today's physics frontiers
  • Encouraging networking between research physicists and school teachers at all levels
  • Informing physics faculty about proven educational methodologies potentially useful for teaching their courses.

It is by working person to person at the "grass roots" level throughout the country that we will increase the appreciation of and constituency for physics and research. Your energies and efforts are the strength of this Forum.

Editorial: Teaching the Public - It's in the Bag

Diandra L. Leslie-Pelecky

How often have you stopped the conversation at a social event by mentioning that you're a physicist? You usually get one of two responses: either "You must be really smart" or "I hated physics when I took it". In the past, these responses didn't bother us as a community. The difficult job market for recent graduates, a 30% cutback in funding for basic research over the next five years, and increasing pressure from administrators to increase the number of majors or credit-hours taught, however, are forcing us to evaluate whether, as a community, we can afford having a large segment of the population that doesn't appreciate -- and as a worst case, actively dislikes -- physics. When responses like, "I hated physics when I took it" are coming from legislators, the consequences are more dire than a pause in the conversation.

While the realization that we no longer have the luxury of talking mainly to ourselves seems to be new to the community as a whole, there are many physicists who believe that part of being a scientist includes figuring out how to communicate the fun and excitement of their field to the public. A few of them have contributed articles to this issue, but if you look at any institution, whether university, government or industry, there are many physicists who devote part of their time to what NSF Director Neal Lane has called, 'civic science'.

I've been actively involved in outreach activities since graduate school. I remember starting the first meeting where we discussed the idea of an outreach project with, "When I was a kid, there was this really neat program called Science Bag..." Science Bag is the creation of Robert Greenler, whom some of you may know as a former president of the Optical Society of America, or from his research in the optical properties of surfaces. In 1973, Professor Greenler led the effort to start a lecture series in which a scientist talks to the public about what he or she does. Each program runs for one month on weekends and usually includes lots of demonstrations and opportunities for audience participation. Speakers, who are chosen for their ability to convey complex topics in understandable language, are from many areas of campus. Show topics vary widely and have included: light and color, music, earthquakes, relativity, angular momentum and chaos among others. The Science Bag I remember most vividly, however, was a biologist whose demonstrations included numerous spiders, scorpions and snakes. While Science Bag may not have been solely responsible for my choosing physics as a career, it may well have been responsible for my not going into biology.

Evaluating the success of outreach programs is difficult. The shear number of people - over 100,000 since 1973 - who have attended Science Bag presentations is one measure of its success. A second benchmark is the institutionalization of the program, which has occurred at UWM under Professor Greenler's stewardship. Institutionalization is significant because many outreach efforts fail to outlive the person who initiated them.

Outreach can sometimes be thankless. You usually don't - and won't - know whether you've had any effect whatsoever on the people with whom you've interacted. I had the opportunity to meet Professor Greenler during a recent visit to UWM and to tell him in person that I grew up on Science Bag and, many years later, the series not only stuck in my memory as something that was a lot of fun, but also spurred my continued involvement in outreach. I don't know for certain, but I would guess that Professor Greenler is not as excited about the small fraction of Science Baggers that have continued on to become scientists as he is that the many more people who are not scientists recognize that science can be both fun and understandable.

Many in the physics community are just now coming to the realization that educating the public is a necessity if we are to protect our livelihood. People like Professor Greenler, and many others who have initiated similar efforts have done a lot of ground work upon which we can build. If you'd like to see how Science Bag does it, videotapes of selected presentations are available. Contact Blue Sky Associates (1208 Bridge Steet, Grafton, WI 53024 (414) 377-1398) for more information.

NSF's Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate to Support Innovative Graduate Education Activities
In a 'Dear Colleague' letter dated May 29, 1996, William C. Harris, Assistant Director of the NSF Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS), announces MPS' intent to support innovative activities in graduate education under the Integration of Research and Education program. In June of 1995, MPS hosted a workshop on Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Training. (The summary of the workshop may be found at Among the recommendations of the workshop were:

  • The skills and knowledge acquired by new Ph.D.'s are too narrowly focused, and are not adequately applicable to the diverse business and industry environments in which most Ph.D. scientists actually work.
  • Mechanisms should be found to encourage broadening of the training and educational experience of MPS graduate students.
  • Revitalization of the MS degree through establishment of "Professional Masters" programs should be explored.
  • New approaches to support graduate education such as departmental traineeships should be examined.

Dr. Robert Reynik, MPS Coordinator of the Integration of Research and Education Program, states, "In FY 1997, MPS expects to support prototype programs which focus on broadening the training and educational experience of MPS graduate students and postdoctoral personnel, and innovative ideas for integrating research with education."

Note that this program is separate from the NSF-wide Recognition Awards for the Integration of Research and Education, which allows only one proposal submission per qualified institution. Further information about the program will be available in the coming months on the MPS homepage. The Dear Colleague letter (NSF 96-104) is also available on the MPS homepage.

Next Executive Committee Meeting Set For October
The next Forum on Education Executive Committee Meeting will be held during the meeting of the Division of Nuclear Physics in Boston. The meeting will be held at the Cambridge Marriott Hotel on Saturday, October 5, 1996 beginning at 8:00 a.m.

Educating the Public on the Importance of Physics

Ivan Schuller

It has been clear for some time that education of the public and legislature is an important matter that seriously affects perception and funding of science - physics in particular. It is probably true that the general public is becoming less and less scientifically literate, in spite of the fact that a larger and larger fraction is becoming university educated. Many worthwhile attempts at improving scientific literacy include general conferences, discussions with legislators, improvement of K-12 education, etc. Clearly, advertisement could play an important role in changing public perception of the role of physics in their lives. If you don't believe in advertising, ask Coca-Cola. I have come across a way to do this, which I believe could give very positive results in 10-20 years. It is cheap and easy to implement, but it requires persistence.

A large fraction of professional physicists are professors at universities. Most of the students that attend college, go through our courses at some stage of their education. This is a captive audience, which "must" listen to our lectures. So, an easy way to advertise to these future decision makers, is to dedicate the last class of the quarter to a general talk about physics. I have experimented over the last 10 years with various versions of this idea and arrived at the following ingredients:

  1. The last lecture of the quarter is divided in two, addressing the following:
    1. What physics has done for humanity.
    2. What I do in my lab.
      It is important to concentrate this in one lecture, since the impact seems to be much lower if it is spread over a course.
  2. Audiovisuals are essential, although for this kind of a talk they are very easy to prepare in some version. Something is better than nothing.
  3. In the general part of the lecture, I explain how physicists have made discoveries in:
    1. Basic research such as black holes, new particles, superconductivity, magnetism, structure of DNA, scanning tunneling microscopy, etc.
    2. Applied research such as photography, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, X-Ray Tomography, lasers, transistors, "the bomb", etc. This part of the lecture has to be related to their daily experience in the supermarket, visiting a physician, going to the movies, etc.
  4. In my individual research, I describe:
    1. How a lab works
    2. Funding sources
    3. The overhead structure, to dispel the notion that the institution pays for our "overinflated" sala 
      ries, trips and "toys"
    4. an overview of the type of researchI do. I invite them to visit my lab, and invariably a few even show up voluntarily.
  5. Ah yes! They are "responsible" for this in the finals. I add in the final an extra credit question something like:

Name three discoveries made by physicists and what impact this has in your daily life.

So...! What can we do as a community? The APS should organize a committee to do the following:

  1. Prepare a lecture for distribution that has all the ingredients mentioned above. Of course, I am sure that a few heads could improve considerably on the ideas outlined above.
  2. Prepare a set of audiovisuals that could be distributed to physics departments across the country.
  3. Send a quarterly reminder to all physics departments, perhaps a yearly reminder to all APS members to institute this.
  4. This should be as free as possible, so that each one can change it in accordance with personal preferences.
  5. However, even if the APS does not organize this, not everything is lost. When you or your colleagues feel that the "world does not understand" remember: YOU can do something about it!

Ivan K. Schuller is a Professor of Physics at the University of California - San Diego.

Nomination Deadline for APS Fellowships
The Forum on Education nominates persons who have made noteworthy contributions to physics education for Fellowship in the APS. Prospective Fellows do not have to be members of the FEd, but must be APS members. The nomination form may be obtained through the Forum web site ( and in APS News. Nominations consisting of a letter stating why the candidate should be a fellow, the APS fellowship nomination form signed by two APS members, a vita of the candidate and up to two letters of support should be sent to Ruth Howes, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, Ball State University, Muncie, IN 47306 by December 1, 1996. Members of the committee are Ruth Howes (chair, Ball State University), Joe Redish (University of Maryland), John Russell (University of Massachusetts, North Dartmouth) and William Kelly (Iowa State University). Past Fellowship honorees are John Russell and David Hestenes

Practicing Civic Science: Notes From the Field

Joel A. Snow

On numerous occasions in recent months NSF Director Neal Lane has suggested (see "The Arlington Rotary Club" in the May-June issue of American Scientist) that the science community has a "new need to share with the American public the value and promise of science and technology." Indeed, he has suggested that: "It may be time to expand the professional responsibilities of science to include informing fellow citizens about science, the linkage between research and education, and the complex relationship among science, technology and social progress."

Neal Lane is not alone in calling for a science literacy campaign, but is joined by many other leaders involved in the science policy process. Former OSTP Associate Director M.R.C. Greenwood spoke to the issue ("Desperately Seeking Friends") in an editorial in Science on May 17, 1996 and recent testimony and press statements by Martha Krebs, DOE's Director of Energy Research, and a decade earlier by Alvin Trivelpiece, formerly in the DOE post, have sounded the same theme. This mission of carrying science to the citizenry has been called by Lane a "civic mission" or a "civic role for scientists" or, in short, "civic science". The purpose of this note is to offer some views and reflections from one occasional practitioner of the civic science trade.

It's probably useful to distinguish between civic science, aimed at informing the general public, and "public science" (or public interest science) aimed at advocacy of public policy related to science and technology. Many widely known members of the science community have campaigned eloquently on science-intensive public policy issues, including Linus Pauling on nuclear weapons testing in the 1960s, Barry Commoner on energy and the environment in the 1970s, and Leon Lederman on science education in the 1980s. Public science has the motivation of changing the direction of public policy due, in part, to arguments based on scientific and technical information. Several advocacy groups exist for just this purpose.

The objective of civic science is rather to inform citizens of how science functions and contributes to our society, and therefore why it merits the public's interest and support. It's a broader issue than building a constituency for science, but includes appreciation of the appropriate uses of science as well. The nexus of the two activities is the reality that without a healthy science community, it is hard to have high quality public science, while advocacy of public support of science is one of many arenas in which public policy might be influenced. More simply, the public scientist is an evangelist for public policy, the civic scientist is an evangelist for science.

It is not entirely self-evident why scientists should take on the task of informing the public about what they do and why they do it. After all, there are other learned occupations, such as theology, poetry, architecture and investment banking, that are arguably as remote from ordinary human experience as science but need not engage in public 
self-justification. What's different about science is that it's often costly to do and usually must be subsidized with public funds. So it's really not unreasonable to expect scientists to help the taxpayer understand what he or she is paying for. It's not that the public lacks interest, but rather that knowledge and understanding of science are unfortunately not widespread.

Despite the reality that science has enabled an unprecedented transformation of human society, many of the daily activities of most people are similar to those of earlier generations, though with different tools. The transforming technologies that make our society different (from instant electronic communications to highly productive, disease resistant seed corn) are seldom obvious in their relevance to everyday life. Little wonder, then, that what takes place in the research laboratory now that may contribute to one small element of a future transforming technology may seem hopelessly arcane and irrelevant. The pace of change has been so rapid that it is hardly surprising that formal education has not kept up. The public, clearly, must learn outside the classroom.

Improving the science and science awareness content of general education has long-run benefits for the unknown and unanticipated vocations of the 21st century, as well as for appreciation of the public benefits of science. But education, particularly public education, seems to resist revolution and is entwined with so many other aspects of society (including financing) that improving its pertinence and performance will be a long, tough struggle.

Civic science, on the other hand, is for today. The challenge is to find out how to communicate with today's working, reading, viewing and voting public on the basis of the tools and experience that they have on tap on their home ground. To capture the attention of our fellow citizens, we scientists must bring our arguments into the context of the daily experience of our audience. They will not be interested in laboratories or lectures, but rather in finding out about things that affect their jobs, businesses, health and daily lives. For that reason, "The Arlington Rotary Club", or the church supper, or the public library fair, or even the morning radio talk show is a suitable venue of choice for getting the message across.

In my own case, I started doing civic (and public) science when I was a graduate student in the 1960's. The hot science-related public issues then were nuclear weapons testing, urban decay and environmental pollution. My basic training for civic science was a three-year stint trying to teach physics to naval personnel engaged in preparing for nuclear submarine duty. My field experience was as a volunteer with the St. Louis Citizens Committee for Nuclear Information. I've been a part-time civic scientist ever since, most recently with public radio as the medium and a smorgasbord of current science-related news as the message. 

On this basis, let me offer a few observations or guidelines based on this experience.

  1. Doing civic science is not for everybody. It is a calling where there needs to be a rapport between you and your audience. You need to speak their language. Though civic science can be a vocation for some, it can be a distraction from other important professional goals. Also, talented people are often better off sticking to what they do well.
  2. What you have to say is not for everybody. Interesting Joe and Jane Farmer in cosmology may just be too hard a sell, although why the night sky isn't a bright sky might work. Most people are willing to have faith that scientists know what they are doing.
  3. Keep it simple. We who are addicted to precision in terminology and expression, and the ifs and buts and caveats of a detailed argument, can quickly lose our audience in a welter of details. But a simple ice cube analogy can show why warming that melts the west Antarctic ice cap would cause global flooding.
  4. Avoid `talking down'. The audience may be literate, though not literate in science. Some of the best contemporary science writing has been in the New Yorker, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
  5. Be clear on what your message is and what connection hooks it to some matter of general public interest with which people identify.
  6. Credibility is precious, so be sure that your facts are really facts, that your interpretations of the importance of the work you are discussing is not overblown, and that your conclusions or opinions are not unduly self-serving. This is particularly the case in communicating with politicians where invidious remarks about subspecialties other than your own seldom result in overall benefit.
  7. Seek out themes with broad appeal. The television serious, "The New Explorers" developed by Bill Kurtis is particularly effective because it pulls in the viewer through the feeling of adventure and personal involvement that it portrays. 
  8. An out-and-out sales pitch for science funding is seldom appropriate. The funding issue is always there in the background, but public investments are made for many public purposes and have many different rationales. Civic occasions are usually ill-suited to complaining about money particularly if the complainer's personal income is well above the local median income. Making a pitch to a politician is a legitimate personal advocacy, but be careful about seeming to represent your institution if that's not your job.
  9. The mundane may be more interesting than the profound. The discovery of quantum mechanics, though quite profound, may be less compelling to a general audience than the tale of the invention of Velcro or the Post-It Note, which also illustrate the scientific method, serendipity and how chance favors the prepared mind.
  10. Seek out opportunities. Probably no one will come beating on your door asking you to speak. But opportunities are everywhere if you pursue them. After you become known, sometimes they will pursue you.
  11. Communicating about science with the general public is hard work. It takes time and talent to do it well. Moreover, the rewards are largely psychic - it's a paying profession for only a few. But you might be surprised at how open the public in your community may be to hear about what you know, what you do and why you do it. For them it's a new and different world.
  12. Finally, remember to lighten up. Science is fun, after all, and sometimes can be funny. Public radio in many locations carries a parody called "Dr. Science" that spoofs the smug, all-knowing scientist who pontificates on practically everything. A year or so ago, a film called, "I.Q." featured Walter Matthau as a slightly batty Einstein with equally batty Institute for Advanced Study buddies. This summer's fare includes "The Phenomenon" (with John Travolta), "The Nutty Professor" (with Eddie Murphy), and "Twister" about chasing tornadoes for scientific purposes. These films are full of stereotypes involving science and light humor to be sure, but also reflecting perceptions in popular culture that include a certain odd respect with which science is viewed, and some frustration at how hard it can be to understand.

Joel A. Snow is the Director of the Institute for Physical Research and Technology at Iowa State University.

Bringing Undergraduate Research to APS Meetings

Peter Collings

The involvement of undergraduates in research activities is being viewed as more and more an important part of the physics curriculum at many institutions. With this in mind, the Physics/Astronomy Division of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), an organization promoting research by undergraduates at predominately undergraduate institutions, decided the time was right to encourage more undergraduates to attend national American Physical Society meetings and report on their work. Undergraduates have always attended these meetings and presented their results either orally or in posters, but the numbers have been exceedingly small. While not wanting to discourage this activity in any way, CUR physicists and astronomers sought a way to make it both easier and less intimidating for undergraduates to participate in APS meetings. With the help of both the Forum on Education and the Committee on Education of APS, CUR physicists organized a special undergraduate poster session at both the March and April meetings this past year.

The idea was simple. With the registration fee waived for the undergraduate students and with the opportunity to present their work along with other undergraduate students, both the financial and psychological barriers would be lowered for many undergraduates just beginning to conduct research. The response to these special poster sessions was quite good, with 23 and 27 students presenting their work in the March and April poster sessions, respectively. Although most of the posters were in the main topical areas of each of the meetings, some were not, a fact that did not seem to make much of a difference in the amount of interest in the posters. Both poster sessions were located near the main poster session and the hors d'oeuvres. Many people wandered to where the undergraduates were presenting, subsequently entering into conversations with the students. The undergraduate students themselves strayed from their posters during times they were not busy and quickly began to talk to other students about their research. When it was all over, many of the students were quick to admit that being at the meeting and attending a few sessions had been extremely enjoyable, but the highlight by far was the poster session, where their ability to discuss their work knowledgeably and to see firsthand that other people were interested in what they were doing was just plain exciting.

Due to the success of these two poster sessions, they will be repeated at the 1997 March and April APS meetings. Posters reporting on work in any area of physics are welcome at each of these poster sessions. The March meeting poster session will take place on 18 March 1996 with a deadline for abstract submission of 6 December 1996. Posters for the undergraduate poster session must be identified by the meeting ID MARCUR97. The date of the poster session for the April meeting has yet to be determined, but the abstract deadline is 17 January 1997. The meeting ID for the April meeting is APRCUR987. All posters must be submitted electronically. Further information can be obtained by contacting the organizers of the 1997 sessions, Peter Collings ( for the March meeting and Michael Vineyard ( for the April meeting. The success of this endeavor has encouraged other groups to experiment with undergraduate poster sessions. For example, the APS Division of Plasma Physics has scheduled an undergraduate poster session for its November meeting. Questions concerning this poster session should be directed to Michael Brown (

Educator's Day 1996
Annual Meeting of the Optical Society of America (OSA) 
Rochester, NY
October 24, 1996

Educator's day honors primary and secondary school science teachers from central and western NY State and features educational lectures and demonstrations by optics experts, with special emphasis on experiments that teachers can replicate in their classrooms. This program has been put together by ths OSA Rochester Local Section, in collaboration with industry and academia.

Shaping the Future: NSF Examines Undergraduate Education

Diandra L. Leslie-Pelecky and Robert C. Hilborn

On July 11-13th, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Research Council (NRC) sponsored a conference entitled "Shaping the Future: Strategies for Revitalizing Undergraduate Education" in Washington DC. Fifty institutional teams ranging from two-year colleges to research-intensive universities were composed of administrators, faculty and undergraduate students. Prior to the conference, each group developed an institution-wide reform plan that served as the basis for further discussion during the conference. Representatives from other institutions, government and industry provided additional perspectives. The conference format alternated between plenary sessions and breakout groups in which various aspects of institutional plans were discussed. Plenary sessions included views from Neal Lane, Director of NSF, industrial scientists and legislators. Exhibits highlighting reform activity at participating institutions were available for perusal during breaks. A lunchtime talk by Bill Kurtis, producer and host of the PBS show "The New Explorers," focused on how the media can assist in reform efforts, as demonstrated by the partnership between his program and the Department of Energy national laboratories.

The conference was guided by two recently released reports. "From Analysis to Action: Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology" summarized the conclusions of a national convocation organized by the NRC and NSF that began the NRC's "Year of Dialogue" on undergraduate education. During the same period, NSF initiated a review of the status of undergraduate education in science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SME&T). The NSF report, "Shaping the Future: New Expectations for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology," produced by the Advisory Committee to the NSF Directorate for Education and Human Resources, was the first comprehensive review of undergraduate science education in nearly 10 years. Both reports came to similar conclusions, with the primary imperative being that

"...all students have access to supportive, excellent undergraduate education in SME&T, and all students learn these subjects by direct experience with the methods and processes of inquiry."

Both reports agree that significant improvement will require large-scale changes, thus the focus on institution-wide reform. Using these reports as background, the "Shaping the Future" conference addressed three key elements of institutional reform:

Improving the educational experience for all students. A shift in focus from preparing future scientists to developing a more science-literate citizenry was emphasized, especially in the context of the need for voters and legislators who are aware of the importance of science during budgetary prioritizing. Attitudinal changes, such as shifting the focus from teaching to learning and expecting that all students will successfully complete SME&T classes - in the same way that there is an implicit assumption that all students will take and pass History and English - will be required. Inquiry-based, collaborative-learning approaches that emphasize learning science as a process and not a set of facts were strongly endorsed.

Change of the institutional culture toward education. Institutions were urged to take an active role in connecting faculty in different disciplines. Many reform effort are highly localized and even faculty at the same school may not be aware of them. For example, a Harvard math professor told of learning about physics professor Eric Mazur's work on interactive lectures through a newsletter from Berkeley, despite their being at the same university. Both reports cite the faculty reward system as one of the strongest barriers to reform due to an overemphasis on research. The reports suggest that institutions should offer incentives for faculty to combine research interests and activities with their teaching and to recognize educational innovation as a contribution on the same level as research innovation. Partnerships between academia and industry, as well as between different types of academic institutions, were stressed. A large percentage of students - especially those going into education - begin their studies at two-year colleges, emphasizing the need for a `seamless' transition and concurrent levels of innovation at different types of institutions.

Development of infrastructure to support faculty efforts. Institutions were urged to support faculty development by providing matching funds for pedagogical and curricular activities, release time when appropriate, and funds for attendance at pedagogical conferences. Former Stanford President Donald Kennedy, who headed the NRC review, contrasted the rapidity of dissemination of research innovations with the slowness of dissemination of educational innovations. The dissemination question is complicated by the fact that different types of institutions have different populations and constraints, and thus often different approaches are needed. The difficulty of developing and sustaining interactions between SME&T faculty and education faculty was noted by many participants.

A ceremonial session was held at the National Air and Space Museum, where NSF Assistant Director Luther Williams announced the first 23 awards in NSF's new program for institution-wide reform in SME&T education. Dr. Williams cited these awards as just the beginning of what he hopes will be a nation-wide reform effort.

Further information about NSF's efforts toward institutional reform of undergraduate SME&T reform may be found at:

Browsing Through the Journals

Thomas Rossing

Readers of this column know that I am a fan of H. Richard Crane's column on How Things Work which appears regularly in The Physics Teacher. In "New Watches and New Capacitors" in the March 1996 issue, Crane discusses the Seiko "Kinetic" watch which operates without a battery. The proprietary "ultracapacitor" which stores enough electrical energy to run the watch for 3 days is apparently charged by an electromagnetic device powered by normal wrist motion. In the May issue, Crane explains the operation of the VT (proximity) fuse, developed during World War II and how the principle can be demonstrated in a physics classroom. A collection of Crane's columns from past issues is available as a book from AAPT.

"Teaching science using hypothetical reasoning" is the title of a thought-provoking editorial by Robert Ehrlich in the March 1996 issue of American Journal of Physics. "What if the earth had no moon? What if time flowed backwards? What if the solar system had two suns?" Posing such questions can lead to stimulating student discussions and a deeper understanding of the existing laws governing the universe, Ehrlich points out. Hypothetical reasoning promotes thinking like a scientist and helps to debunk pseudoscience, among other things.

The National Science Education Standards, published by the National Research Council in December, have stimulated lively discussions in the journals as well as across many coffee cups. In the March/April issue of Journal of College Science Teaching is an editorial entitled "The Standards are Coming! Are We Ready?" by Gerald Wheeler, Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association.

The February 2, 1996 issue of Science includes a special report on science education in European universities. Across Europe, higher education is in a state of flux. The United Kingdom wants to open up its university system to more students, whereas French universities want to be more selective. Dutch universities are being encouraged to specialize, while in Germany there is increasing emphasis on improving teaching quality, the correspondents report. One article discusses Central Europe and the challenge of reinventing higher education after Communism, while another considers the current problems in Russia.

“Differences in Students’ Perceptions of Learning Physics” is the title of a paper by three Australian academics in the January 1996 issue of Physics Education. This paper by Michael Prosser, Paul Walker, and Rosemary Millar discusses the results of a before and after survey of first-year physics students at the University of Sydney. The authors point out the need to develop a more detailed understanding of students’ perceptions of learning physics.

Art Hobson discusses experience and reason as guides to knowledge in a paper on “Incorporating Scientific Methodology into Introductory Science Courses” in the March/April issue of Journal of College Science Teaching. The author, who has taught a liberal-arts physics course at the University of Arkansas for 20 years with an average enrollment of 330 students each semester, advocates the use of historical examples to teach the methods of science. One might begin the semester, he suggests, with two or three lectures about history’s most famous example of scientific methodology: the transition from an Earth-centered to a sun-centered theory. Point out that the ancient Greeks knew Earth was a sphere, and ask the class how they might have come to know this. An important lesson is that science does not seek absolute truth, for no matter what general scientific principle one considers, that principle is always in danger of disproof by some new observation. You can never be certain.

“Thin Ice over Deep Water” by Neal Lane, also in the March/April issue of Journal of College Science Teaching, is adapted from the author’s remarks at the January meeting of the American Astronomical Society. “Science education has, for far too long, been viewed as somehow separate and distinct from scientific research. Integration of research and education is a rich concept, Lane reminds us, and there are different ways to think about it: the teaching of students by faculty who are working at the science frontiers; the traditional role of research in graduate education; new educational opportunities for Ph.D. research students; the participation of undergraduates in research; and some degree of exposure of non-science undergraduates and K-12 teachers and their students to research.

The British journal Physics Education often has themes for special issues. Hospital physics is the theme of the March 1996 issue, which includes articles on medical imaging, Doppler ultrasound, nuclear medicine, radiotherapy, and diagnostic radiology. In a sense, this is a sequel to the November 1995 issue, which was devoted to the centenary of the discovery of x-rays. An editorial by Peter Rodgers in the March 1996 issue of Physics World addresses the problem of public understanding in science. Although the problem is an old one, the arguments for better understanding have changed. In recent years, the public has come to distrust science, and it is becoming more and more difficult for science to maintain its share of the public purse. Science is entering an era of priority setting. If we are lucky, the priorities will be set by panels of scientists, but signs more and more point to the “top-down” approach to policy.

Moving Forward: The National Convocation on Science and Engineering Doctoral Education

Robert C. Hilborn and Diandra L. Leslie-Pelecky

The release of the National Academy of Sciences' COSEPUP (Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy) report on the state of graduate education one year ago brought widespread calls for an examination of post-baccalaureate student training. On June 15th, the NAS held a national convocation titled "From Discussion to Action: Meeting the Needs of Future Generations of Graduate Scientists and Engineers". The goal of this gathering was to examine how the scientific community is addressing the problems raised in the original report. Over 300 representatives from professional societies, government agencies, industry, and research universities gathered for the one-day symposium.

Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences, welcomed attendees by emphasizing four main points about the current "crisis" in graduate science and engineering education:

  • The nation needs more scientifically trained people, not fewer.
  • Graduate programs must provide education that will result in versatile scientists and engineers.
  • The definition of who is and who is not a scientist must be broadened, as most students will pursue career paths other than basic research.
  • Graduate programs should provide better career information and guidance.

Panel discussions focused on identifying important areas for change and the most promising new strategies to meet these challenges. Panel discussions were followed by breakout sessions during which participants met in small groups to develop recommendations and suggestions. Break-out groups discussed a wide variety of topics including: improving Ph.D. versatility, providing better career information, improving leadership and team communication skills, financing graduate education, preparing future faculty, mentoring and faculty attitudes, student diversity, master's degree programs, and post-doctoral positions.

Although the panel discussions and question-and-answer sessions addressed a broad spectrum of concerns, several common topics emerged. The primary theme was that graduate education in science and engineering must constitute more than just the pursuit of specialized research. Graduate education must include:

  • a shift in mindset from doing research to training graduate students.
  • broadened perspectives on career options on the part of both faculty and students, emphasizing that most Ph.D.s do not (and never did) go into basic research careers in academia or government labs.
  • internships in industry or government agencies to broaden the background of graduate students and to develop a knowledge of basic business principles.
  • means to enhance communication skills, including written and oral presentations.
  • enhancement of interpersonal skills; in particular, the ability to work in interdisciplinary teams.

Funding of graduate education - a continuing topic of discussion - was seen as a crucial tool for implementing permanent changes. There was a general call for a shift from individual research assistantships tied to single-PI research awards to traineeships - grants to departments or research centers for the purpose of funding students. Michael Zigmond of the University of Pittsburgh pointed out that, although students are concerned about career issues, most faculty are not. The current mechanisms for funding graduate education and rewarding faculty performance send the wrong messages. Traineeships allow students greater freedom in selecting a research advisor and research area, while providing more leverage for funding agencies to assure that departments provide the necessary breadth and versatility of training. NSF Director Neal Lane stated that the National Science Board has set up a Task Force to examine NSF's role in the reshaping of graduate education and that the research directorates were already experimenting with new traineeship grants.

Two poster sessions displayed an impressive array of projects addressing some of the concerns identified in the original COSEPUP report. University research centers enlisting the help of graduate students in outreach programs that bring science and research to the general public were presented. Changes in coursework, such as Cornell's 12-month MBA for scientists and engineers, and the City University of New York's courses in professional development, are becoming more widespread. Many professional societies are disseminating career information and awareness using the Internet and at professional meetings.

Although much of the conference focused on faculty and institutional change, several participants noted that graduate students must take substantial responsibility for gathering and disseminating career information. The professional societies must also play an important role in leading discussions of reform issues and disseminating information on those programs that are working. Participants suggested that many of the proposed changes in graduate education could ideally be included as part of the undergraduate program and would be highly beneficial to students entering the workforce after the baccalaureate degree.

The COSEPUP report and a summary of the June 15 convocation are accessible through the NAS website (

The APS Mass Media Fellowship Program

James J. Wynne

Physicists generally agree that the public does not understand or appreciate physics research; furthermore, most physicists realize that the majority of non-physicists gain information about physics through the mass media, both print and broadcast. Recognizing that the physics community could greatly benefit from a broader and deeper understanding and appreciation of physics by the public, the inescapable conclusion is that we have to enhance the frequency and accuracy of physics reporting in the mass media!

The APS Forum on Education has focused its attention on programs to educate the public - both students of physics and adults. Ultimately, we decided to have physicists join the ranks of science reporters, at least temporarily, through a short-term fellowship program. Rather than create an entirely new program, we decided to work with an established, successful program that has administrative infrastructure and contacts with media organizations, namely the existing AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program. In its 21 year existence, the program has placed approximately 350 fellows with newsmagazines, newspapers, TV networks and many local organizations. Following the completion of their fellowships, approximately half of the fellows have returned to traditional science and engineering careers, while the other half have gone into employment in the mass media. We proposed to the APS Council, through POPA (the Panel on Public Affairs), that the APS set up a Mass Media Fellowship Program to enable physicists to spend up to three months working in the mass media. Initially, the APS Mass Media Fellowships would be for two physicists in the early stages of their careers (including, in particular, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows). Candidates selected by the APS would be placed in internship positions by the AAAS. In November 1995, the APS Council approved our proposal, and a procedure is now being put in place to advertise the fellowship program and ultimately choose the APS candidates in time for the summer of 1997. The principal activist behind this program has been Natalia Meshkov of Argonne National Laboratory, FEd's first Secretary-Treasurer, who carried the ball through the formulation, and proposal stages.

Just imagine what might happen to the public's perception of physics and physicists if one of our APS Mass Media Fellows became the screen writer for a popular TV program starring "cool" physicists - some sort of cross between ER and Flash Gordon - with Dr. Zharkov (Flash's older, wiser, scientist colleague) portrayed as not only smart but also as youthful and dynamic. We could call the program College Park Crisis Center and focus on a team of physicists called upon to troubleshoot when crises arise. Here's a sketch of a possible episode: the federal government is threatened by a financial crisis because the ink on the new $100 bills fades, making the money unreadable. Our heroes conduct spectroscopy experiments and discover that exposure to excess solar ultraviolet radiation (a consequence of ozone depletion) has optically pumped the dye molecules in the ink to a long-lived triplet state from which they do not absorb visible light. A brilliant graduate student from UCLA (who also happens to be an Olympic diving champion), spending her Kumar Patel fellowship at the American Center for Physics, solves the problem by two-photon irradiation of the dye molecules with an infrared photon from a carbon dioxide laser (that just happens to have been invented by Kumar Patel, recent National Medal of Science winner and 1995 President of the APS) and an ultraviolet photon from the NIST synchrotron, photochemically converting the ink dyes to a new isomer with a short-lived triplet state. A government default is thereby narrowly averted. Too far-fetched you say? Then consider the case of Neal Baer, 1983 AAAS Mass Media Fellow, who was originally hired as a technical consultant for ER, but after rewriting Michael Crichton's pilot (replacing Crichton's dated medical school knowledge with state-of-the-science knowledge), was hired as a full-time staff writer - the only one with any medical training.

Whether or not APS Mass Media Fellows become sources of hit TV programs, we expect them to provide their journalist colleagues with a better understanding of physics, while gaining on-the-job experience in mass media. At the end of their fellowship tenure, they will serve as a resource for the physics community to facilitate and enhance our communications with the mass media and, ultimately, the public. Advertising for the fellowship program will begin in September 1996. A brochure will be prepared to describe the program. Written applications for fellowships will be due in January 1997 and will consist of a current resume, a brief writing sample directed to the general public, a letter stating the applicant's purpose in seeking the fellowship, and letters of recommendation. The APS will appoint a selection committee to screen the applicants and select semifinalists who will be invited for interviews. Following the interviews, finalists will be chosen and forwarded to the AAAS by about April 1, 1997 for inclusion in the package of materials that AAAS submits to media organizations that have indicated interest in hosting a fellow. The media organizations make the final selection. Fellows who are placed will be notified by late April or early May. Fellows will be invited to report on their experiences at the fall meeting of POPA and to make themselves available to the physics community for consultation on media issues during subsequent years. So keep your eyes peeled for the official announcement and application form, and who knows, you may be the next Michael Crichton/Walter Sullivan/Carl Sagan.

Jim Wynne is a Research Staff Member at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Center and the FEd Representative to the APS Council.

The State of the Forum

Ruth Howes

The Forum on Education is finally well-enough established so that the mechanics of getting out a newsletter, holding elections and organizing invited sessions are no longer active crises. Our three newsletter editors, Stan Jones, Diandra Leslie-Pelecky and Tom Rossing, have done an excellent job in making the newsletter informative and readable. Rush Holt and Natasha Meshkov ran a smooth and successful election this year. We welcome Paul Zitzewitz as incoming Vice Chair, Morton Kagan as incoming Secretary-Treasurer, and Jack Wilson and Helen Quinn as members of the Executive Committee.

Ken Lyons, past chair, and chair of the Committee on Fellowships has established a procedure that should continue through the upcoming years. We are pleased that David Hestenes has been named a fellow this year. Hestenes' citation reads: "For elucidating the relevance of cognitive science to physics education, establishing the deficiency of standard lecture methods, developing superior pedagogy, and constructing a new mathematical language for research and education." In addition to leading the Fellowship Committee, Ken Lyons has pioneered our homepage which now contains all issues of the newsletter hyperlinked among themselves. The computerized database on research opportunities for undergraduates has supported more than 3000 searches this year.

We are in the process of establishing liaisons with national networks of teachers at two year colleges and at high schools. Both of these programs are strongly linked to the AAPT, and I think that we have established a good working relationship with the AAPT leadership. We have tried to avoid turf issues with both AAPT and the Committee on Education. We've also been working very closely with the Committee on Education this year, and I think our relationship is thoroughly symbiotic.

Bev Hartline, this year's Forum Chair, has led the program committee in presenting a number of exciting invited sessions at both the March and April meetings. In March, the FEd sponsored or co-sponsored sessions on Beating Today's Job Market, Frontiers in Research, Science Policy in an Era of Change and Project SEER. In May, sessions we sponsored or co-sponsored included Frontiers in Physics Education, The Future of Physics Careers - A Panel and Open Forum, Workplace Skills: What Are They and How Do We Help Students Acquire Them, Frontiers in Physics Research, and Promoting Physics to the Public. In addition, FEd helped arrange a poster session on undergraduate research and a contributed session on Education, Arms Control and Energy. In the future, we hope to encourage more contributed papers in FEd- sponsored sessions.

Finally, Natasha Meshkov and Jim Wynne have taken the lead in proposing APS media fellowships to place young physicists in mass media organizations. The program has been approved by Council and returned to FEd to develop procedures for implementing it. It will follow the model of the Congressional Fellowships by adding APS fellows to an existing AAAS program.

In addition to this brief summary of our activities, I'd like to call your attention to two issues on which we are working but which are far from resolved. As you know, one new forum was established this year and a second is currently developing. This responds to a feeling that the existing forums do not adequately deal with issues of vital importance to significant numbers of APS members. At the same time, the new funding structure for forums means that all of us are in financial difficulties. Many of the interests of the various forums overlap strongly. So far, we have managed to work together informally, but as we add more and more forums, the informal system may not be adequate. We need to work to be sure that our cooperation with other forums grows and continues to benefit physics. The broad issues that forums address provide the glue that holds APS together. These are the concerns that link all of us as physicists. Second, we need to continue to strengthen our collaboration with AAPT. So far, we have worked very well with that organization and have been delighted with the results of our joint efforts. We need to watch for new opportunities to work with AAPT and continue our efforts to be sure that our mutual efforts interfere constructively.

The annual business meeting was held at the Indianapolis meeting on May 4th, with about 50 Forum members in attendance. Outgoing chair Ruth Howes presented the annual report for and recognized the major contributions of retiring past chair Ken Lyons, founding secretary-treasurer Natalia Meshkov, AAPT liaison Howard Voss, and retiring executive committee members Milton Slaughter and Gerald Wheeler.

Incoming chair, Beverly Hartline, challenged FEd members to find better ways to support precollege teachers, particularly high school teachers, and to interest other APS members in education. She called for FEd to help to link undergraduate education to careers and to work on educating government, Congress and the media. Hartline urged members to get involved in Forum activities by nominating members for executive committee offices, by nominating candidates for APS fellowship, and by getting in touch with the executive committee.

New business included a report by Len Jossem on a survey of the future of physics currently being conducted by the Board of Physics and Astronomy of the National Research Council. Jossem expressed concern that the current plan for the survey does not include physics education. He has contacted the chair of the Board and urges Forum members to watch closely to ensure that physics education is not short-changed. Joe Redish reminded members of the upcoming International Conference on Undergraduate Physics Education, "The Changing Role of the Physics Department in Modern Universities," to be held at the University of Maryland, July 31-August 3, 1996.

The Citizen Scientist: A Model For Professional Survival

P. W. "Bo" Hammer

This has been quite a century for physics and the physics profession. The development of modern physics in the early part of this century ushered in the Manhattan Project and other major World War II R&D initiatives such as the development of radar. Physicists showed the public that science could make significant contributions to national needs, particularly military security. In the post-war era, especially as the Cold War heated up, the public rewarded physicists and the broader science community with generous funds for research. For half a century the physics profession bloomed, and its fruits provided security and brought forth a new economic age dominated by silicon-based industries. The technical spillover into other fields such as biotechnology and medicine has been equally profound economically.

The Cold War ended abruptly, leaving significant collateral damage to national economies. US victory was bought on credit, leaving the public to reckon with large federal budget deficits and stifling payments on the national debt. These new economic constraints have had two effects. First, the public, through its elected representatives, seems no longer willing to make the generous broad-based investment in science and technology that physicists could at one time take for granted. Second was the revolution of sorts of the new Republican Congress, characterized by an anti-government attitude and a lack of experience in governing. These members of Congress were elected on their promise to upend the federal government by slashing spending, eliminating programs (if not whole agencies) and shifting governing responsibilities back to the states. The pervasive attitude in Congress is now one of distrust of the federal government and its role in our society. Additionally, because half the members of Congress are in their first or second term, they lack basic familiarity and know-how about governing and the intricacies of how the federal government functions. Congressional inexperience is particularly threatening in areas of science policy, where federal spending is critical for programs to survive and where the science programs being funded are not readily understood by the typical member of Congress. Criticizing this lack of understanding does not mean that members of Congress should all be scientists, yet the role of science in national policy does involve technical subtleties and judgement, as well as understanding of how science functions institutionally. A glaring example of this lack of understanding has been the false dichotomy in the recent debate over science vs. technology, or basic vs. applied research. Most worrisome, however, in this era of budget cutting is that federal spending priorities must be set to tighter tolerances. The lack of sophistication among members of Congress about the workings of the federal science infrastructure creates the specter of priorities being set willy-nilly, without much basis in rationality.

This current state of affairs threatens the physics profession and leads me to conclude that the cloistered physicist is a dinosaur. A new generation of citizen scientists is needed to confront the new realities of the post-Cold War era. In the old days, the cloistered scientist was the model and politics was considered dirty and manifestly unscientific. Only the most eminent scientists were active in Washington and they were trusted by their colleagues back in the lab to do the right thing. Life is different now and it is imperative for physicists, individually and collectively, to assume a new, expanded civic role. Citizen scientists are needed to educate members of Congress about the role of science in society and to help set rational priorities for federal spending under flat or declining budgets.

Educating members of Congress is best achieved on a personal basis, whereby you as a physicist establish a relationship with your local representative. There are a number of ways to do this. One is to invite your congressperson to visit your university to see the lab and talk to students and faculty. In this way, he or she can learn about what is happening on campus and to see how federal dollars are being spent. Be prepared to talk about why your research is useful - you should have some idea why the federal government is funding you - and to speak to the general usefulness of federally funded scientific research (not just your research). Another thing to do is arrange a meeting with your congressperson, either in the district office or on your next trip to Washington, timed around a congressional issue such as DOE or NSF funding for the next fiscal year. Similarly, your goal would be to talk about the importance of the federal investment in R&D in order for the US to remain competitive in the global economy and to educate the next generation of innovators. You may end up meeting with a staff person, but that is OK. Staff are powerful; they control the message and filter information, and if you ally yourself with a key staffer you will have made great progress toward influencing Congress. A third approach is to become involved in your congressperson's reelection. If it is tasteful for you to do so, make a contribution of your time and/or your money to the effort. This is a good way to get on the inside of your congressperson's operation and it helps establish your bona fides as a trustworthy supporter.

The objective in engaging your representatives should be to establish their confidence in your ability to provide reliable advice on science-related issues. Public policy increasingly has technical content, yet Members of Congress and their staffs generally are not technically trained. Thus, they will accept your help readily if you provide information and advice in a consumable form. Recognize that policy is not rational by scientific standards and that in politics there are legitimate competing interests. Try to present all sides of an issue, give options, and be willing to accept compromise. Be humble; you may be the expert scientist but that staffer is the expert policy maker who controls the flow of information you are trying to transmit. Most important, do not forget that your member of Congress serves you. Do not be shy about expressing your opinion by giving positive feedback or conveying your disappointment.

An alternative approach to becoming a citizen scientist is to stay abreast of issues and respond when response is warranted. An example of this occurred during the recent congressional budget impasse. One outcome of this deadlock was that many federal agencies, NSF included, were being funded on short-term bases by a series of continuing resolutions that threatened the agencies with significant loss of funds. Exacerbating the funding uncertainties were government shutdowns, during which no work was done (under threat of penalty, even for reading e-mail). At NSF, grant applications went unprocessed, creating a backlog and subsequent delay of funds. In response , APS leadership sent e-mail to several thousand APS members alerting them of the crisis and urging them to contact their Members of Congress in support of a full NSF appropriation. As a result of this appeal, at least 1,200 physicists sent letters to Congress. In addition, other professional organizations joined in, getting many of their members to follow suit. House Appropriations Committee Chair Bob Livingston reported having a stack of letters an inch-and-a-half thick in support of NSF. Scientists had shoved NSF into the face of Congress, and full funding for 1996 was restored. The lesson here is that physicists acting together on issues of broad importance can wield political power with positive effect for our profession and for the nation.

As citizens, scientists must actively promote the value of science. In Congress, this value is reflected in the appropriation of funds to the agencies. Yet once an agency has its share of the pie, further priority setting must be done at a more detailed and technical level. These spending priorities are set by Congress and the administration, with or without the involvement of the science community. One of the most dramatic recent examples of the dynamics of priority-setting occurred in the death of the Superconducting Super Collider and the subsequent repositioning of US high energy physics.

The high energy physics community had put forth the SSC as their top-priority project and for a time they were accommodated generously; however, Congress gradually became convinced that this gamble on discovery could no longer be justified. When SSC was finally terminated, the high energy physics community responded quickly. The Secretary of Energy convened a subpanel of the DOE High Energy Physics Advisory Panel to draft a consensus document (the Drell Report) outlining a vision for the future of high energy physics. The Drell Report appeared within half a year and was converted into an authorization bill by the House Science Committee. The bill was passed by the House, but time constraints prevented the Senate from taking it up. Despite its failure to be codified, President Clinton's 1996 and 1997 high energy physics budget requests have reflected the subpanel's recommendations and Congress has cooperated, ensuring the fiscal health of the field through the end of the decade.

The Drell report presented a balanced plan at reasonable cost. It also demonstrated that within a scientific community, consensus building is effective because it demonstrates an ability to make difficult choices and present a unified vision. Congress and the executive branch desperately need this sort of rational advice from relevant interest groups.

The Bahcall Report on astronomy and astrophysics is another good example of consensus building and priority-setting. This 1991 report synthesized the advice of over 300 astronomers and proposed a "prioritized list of new equipment initiatives" based on scientific potential coupled with economic, technological, and sociopolitical factors. Granted, consensus building is rarely simple, but it is a challenge that cannot be ignored. In this tight budgetary climate, Congress necessarily will continue to make the tough decisions. It is thus incumbent upon physicists to work within their professional communities to set priorities for their profession and convey this information to decision makers. Approaching priority setting rationally in a manner reminiscent of Drell and Bahcall is a way to have your professional voice heard and to guide policy makers in making the best possible decisions. Not doing so is very risky professionally in today's fiscal and political climate.

As in research or teaching, being an effective citizen scientist requires education and practice. Preparation is key. There are many resources available through professional societies that provide advice on how to convey your message most effectively. The American Institute of Physics publishes a free electronic newsletter called FYI, which provides weekly updates on science policy in Washington, DC. To subscribe, send mail to: In the text field type, "add fyi". FYI can also be found on the AIP homepage at <>. Science magazine provides a weekly summary of science policy, both domestic and international, as well as readable summaries of important discoveries across the disciplines. AIP also publishes a useful free brochure called Communicating With Congress. A more comprehensive treatment of the subtleties of Congress and how to communicate in this environment is Working With Congress by William Wells (AAAS Press, 1996). The APS letter-writing campaign in support of NSF was organized by the APS Office of Public Affairs, PGNet program. If you want to be alerted in crisis situations so that you can make phone calls and/or write letters, contact APS also coordinates a successful Congressional Visits Program.

With practice, your input and advice will make a difference and you will benefit science, our profession, and the society we serve. Furthermore, taking positive action in times of uncertainty can be psychologically beneficial and personally empowering. In many ways, the old models describing science and society are no longer valid. Alternatively, a community of citizen scientists stands an excellent chance of entering the next era strengthened by a new compact with society.

Group Learning-Based Approach to the Graduate Electrodynamics Course: Jackson by Inquiry

Bruce R. Patton

A recent experiment conducted with the graduate electrodynamics course at Ohio State indicates that active group learning experiences may have untapped advantages in the graduate program in physics in addition to the demonstrated advantages in the undergraduate curriculum(1-3). The rationale and features of this experimental course are briefly described here.

Although a good preparation in the appropriate undergraduate courses is sufficient to pass the qualifying exam in graduate school in physics, typically most students have trouble because they did not really master the undergraduate material in the sense of developing qualitative understandings, ability to handle context- rich problems, or an ability to transfer knowledge to new or related situations. The graduate courses that are supposed to remedy these deficiencies are, however, taught at a much more sophisticated and mathematical level so that students still do not develop an intuitive, qualitative, and robust multileveled understanding that transfers to novel situations. The problem is most acute for the most challenging course, the first-year graduate electrodynamics sequence.

This weakness in the introductory graduate courses has two major negative impacts on the graduate program and the students:

  • the lack of discovery-based education in the first 2-3 years makes the transition to research slower and more difficult and impedes development of real-world workplace skills
  • the lack of effectiveness of the graduate program in improving the preparation of at-risk students means that bright students with weak math/physics backgrounds have little opportunity to succeed.

The implication of the first point is longer periods than necessary to obtain a Ph.D. (6-10 years), while the second means fewer faculty role models for undergraduates among underrepresented groups in physics.

The hands-on active-learning format of the electrodynamics inquiry course I developed in 1994-95 at Ohio State has a number of potential advantages in addressing the problems above: (a) facilitation of the transition to the group-based discovery learning that takes places in thesis work; (b) significantly increased effectiveness in preparing underrepresented students for the qualifying exam and thesis work, while potentially being more challenging than the standard format for the better prepared students; and (c) invaluable experience in the group-learning mode for graduate students who serve as teaching assistants in undergraduate courses which increasingly use group-teaching techniques.

The graduate electromagnetism course was chosen in part for the group inquiry experiment because it is the most mathematical, technical and demanding of the graduate courses. Not only is it given in the first year, but it also functions in part as the math methods course, covers the most material at the fastest rate (most of Jackson(4) in a year) with the largest time investment reported by students (70% ± 20% by students taking one or two other courses). Successful results with the inquiry method in this course would mean that similar approaches could work in the other courses of the core graduate program like quantum mechanics, classical mechanics, and statistical physics. Positive results would also tend to dispel the notion that the inquiry approach is not suitable for covering either technical material (like calculus-based introductory physics) or an extensive amount of material.

Course format: The usual first-year graduate course has a time-honored format involving lectures, homework problems, and exams (standard lecture format). In particular, the typical graduate electrodynamics course has three lectures/week, covers five chapters of Jackson per quarter, assigns 3 to 4 problems/week, and has one or two midterms and a final. In contrast the inquiry-modified course I gave at Ohio State in 1994-95 incorporated a cooperative group problem solving lab and other features patterned after the undergraduate Physics by Inquiry course developed at the University of Washington and taught at Ohio State since 1990 (5). In particular, the pilot version of the electrodynamics course replaced one lecture/week with a 2-hour active problem solving lab. The coverage and homework assigned was kept the same; however, homework was effectively started in lab groups and finished together outside of class. A journal and quizzes were added as assessment mechanisms.

Group Work: Key features of the successful undergraduate inquiry-based course were adapted to the graduate level. In the problem-solving lab the students worked together in groups of 3 to 5 on questions in an electrodynamics lab manual, which contains periodic check points at which the group must satisfactorily explain their results to an instructor who then signs the group off for that section. Instructors are discouraged from lecturing or giving yes/no answers to the groups, but instead must find a question or example that stimulates or directs the group discussion. To encourage group interaction, one randomly selected homework from each group was graded with everyone in the group receiving that grade. At a checkpoint, instructors can easily individualize their responses to each table, introducing simpler or more challenging questions as required, and allowing each group to proceed at its own pace.

Context-Rich Problems: The problems and questions the students explore in the lab are designed to be intriguing and rewarding for the insight provided, and require a multistage procedure to solve, thus precluding a formula only "plug and chug" approach. In the third quarter of the EM sequence each student group developed their own lectures, homework assignments, and inquiry problem labs, based on a context-rich real-world situation like underwater communications using ELF waves, design of multiple detectors for an accelerator, or theories of the electromagnetic mass of the electron. Each group played the full role of the inquiry instructors, engaging other groups in discussion at a checkpoint by asking questions rather than giving answers directly, checking off completed work, and grading homework.

Result:  Although quantitative evaluation procedures are still being developed for this course, some observations can be made at this point. Several qualitative features are clear from the student journals and comments during problem labs. First, the labs are fun; they are the most popular feature of the course for the students. To a professor teaching the course, the lab interactions are more like that of a professor with her research group. Second, the group discussion format immediately puts students with good verbal and qualitative reasoning skills, such as domestic students, on more equal footing with students who have strong mathematical and physics backgrounds, such as international students. The strengths and weaknesses of these groups complement each other. On the quantitative side, comparison of scaled numerical grades in the inquiry electrodynamics course with simultaneous grades in graduate quantum mechanics or classical mechanics, taught using the standard lecture approach, reveals a significant relative improvement in the inquiry electrodynamics course by students with weaker backgrounds and especially by students underrepresented in physics such as women and domestic minorities. As a control experiment, no such differences were observed between the electrodynamics course and the other first year courses when they were all taught with the standard lecture format. In addition, it was possible to make a further quantitative comparison between student performance on the electrodynamics component of the qualifying exam relative to the other sections of the exam. Underrepresented students who took the inquiry electrodynamics course were found to have a substantially higher relative electrodynamics score on the qualifying exam.

Future Directions: A number of modifications and additions are contemplated for future versions of the course, include developing appropriate active-learning assessments. Possible improvements to this course may involve exploring the effects of reducing coverage to core material and increasing the depth. We plan to introduce the use of appropriate modeling software such as the CUPS electrodynamics program, which can greatly enhance the ability of students to visualize stages in the solution of complex problems. This process should play a vital role in the development of qualitative solutions that the students are particularly weak in. Students who are uncertain about the nature or details of a particular solution will be encouraged to set it up on the computer using Maple or Mathematica to see for themselves and then reconcile the numerical and analytic approaches A tight integration of the traditional analytical approach with the modern computational attack should provide immediate benefits in development of workplace skills as well as enhancing student resourcefulness in thesis research.


  1. Bruce R. Patton, "Group Inquiry-Based Approach to Graduate Education in Physics: Can you do electromagnetism (Jackson) in a hands-on way?" invited talk at Joint APS/AAPT Meeting, Indianapolis, 2-4 May 1996; and "Group Active Learning in Graduate Physics: Jackson by Inquiry", to be submitted to Am. J. Phys.
  2. A. Van Heuvelen, "Learning to think like a physicist: a review of research-based instructional strategies," Am. J. Phys. 59, 891, (1991)
  3. P. Laws, "Workshop Physics: Replacing lectures with real experience," in Proc. Conf. on Computers in Physics Instruction, ed. J. Risley and E. Redish (Addison-Wesley, 1990) pp. 22-32.
  4.  J.D. Jackson, Classical Electrodynamics, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (1975).
  5. L.C. McDermott, P.S. Shaffer and M.L. Rosenquist, Physics by Inquiry, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (1996).

Nominations for Forum Executive Committee Invited
Members of the Forum on Education are invited to submit nominations for positions on the Executive Committee. Nominations are needed for the positions of Vice-Chair (a four-year position in which the person serves as Vice-Chair, Chair-Elect, Chair and Past-Chair), General Member-At-Large, APS/AAPT Member-At-Large and Forum Councillor. The nominating committee will accept suggestions from members and self-nominations. Candidates can also be nominated by petition, with the signatures (or e-mail equivalent) of 1% of the FEd membership (36 people). Once a person is nominated, his or her name is placed on the ballot, along with a short biography and a candidate's statement informing voters of the candidate's qualifications and agenda. Nominations must be received by October 1st. Members of the nominating committee are:

  • Paul Zitzewitz (University of Michigan - Dearborn, Chair) (313) 593-5158
  • Anthony Johnson (New Jersey Institute of Technology) (201) 596-3531
  • Len Jossem (Ohio State University) (614) 292-6959
  • Jeff Kovac (University of Tennessee - Knoxville) (423) 974-3444
  • Ken Krane (Oregon State University) (541) 737-4569
  • Cherrill Spencer (SLAC) (415) 926-3474

Executive Committee of the Forum on Education

Beverly Hartline, Chair 
Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility
Newport News, VA 
Phone: 757-249-7567 
Term: 12/97

Rush Holt, Chair-Elect 
Princeton Plasma Physics Lab 
Pennington, NJ 
Phone: 609-243-2104 
Term: 12/98

Paul Zitzewitz, Vice-Chair
University of Michigan - Dearborn
Dearborn, MI 
Phone: 313-593-5158 
Term: 12/99

Morton Kagan, Secretary-Treasurer 
University of New Haven
West Haven, CT
Phone: 203-932-7153
Term: 12/98

Ruth Howes, Past-Chair
Ball State University 
Muncie, IN 
Phone: 317-285-8868 
Term: 12/96

James Wynne, Forum Councillor
IBM/T. J. Watson Research Center 
Yorktown Heights, NY 
Phone: 914-945-1575 
Term: 12/96

Catherine Olmer, Gen. Member-at-Large
Indiana University 
Bloomington, IN 
Phone: 812-855-0173 
Term: 12/96

Helen R. Quinn, Gen. Member-at-Large 
SLAC, Stanford University 
Stanford, CA 
Phone: 415-926-2713 
Term: 12/98

Howard Georgi, Gen. Member-at-Large 
Harvard University 
Cambridge, MA 
Phone: 617-495-3908 
Term: 12/97

Edward Redish, APS/AAPT Member-at-Large 
University of Maryland 
College Park, MD 
Phone: 301-405-6120 
Term: 12/96

Jack Wilson, APS/AAPT Member-at-Large
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 
Troy, NY 
Phone: 518-276-4853 
Term: 12/98

Jay Pasachoff, APS/AAPT Member-at-Large
Williams College 
Williamstown, MA 
Phone: 413-597-2105 
Term: 12/97

Howard Voss, AAPT Representative 
Arizona State University 
Tempe, AZ 
Phone: 602-965-6794 

LeRoy F. Cook, APS Committee on Education 
University of Massachutsetts, Amherst 
Amherst, MA 
Phone: 413-545-0381 

Ken Lyons, Homepage Administrator
AT&T Bell Laboratories
Murray Hill, NY

Newsletter Editors:

Summer Issue
(deadline: June 1) 
Diandra Leslie-Pelecky
Center for Materials Research and Analysis 
University of Nebraska 
Lincoln, NE 68588-0113 
Phone: 402-472-9178 | Fax: 402-472-2879 

Spring Issue
(deadline for contributions: Feb. 1) 
Stan Jones
College of Arts and Sciences 
Box 870268 
The University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0268 
Phone: 205-348-7007 | Fax: 205-348-9642

Fall Issue
(deadline: Oct. 1) 
Thomas Rossing 
Department of Physics 
Northern Illinois University 
DeKalb, IL 60115-2854 
Phone: 815-753-6493 | Fax: 815-753-8565