2003 AAPT Winter Meeting Highlights

126th National Meeting — Austin, TX
Jan. 11-15, 2003

The 126th National Meeting of the Association moved south to Austin, Texas, to take advantage of the warmer weather and sunshine of the southern part of the United States. Unfortunately, the weatherman did not cooperate— rain and below normal temperatures were the prevalent weather for most of the meeting. However, the warm Texas hospitality and excellent accommodations more than made up for the uncooperative weather.

The 1000 participants registered for the meeting were drawn by the excellent program that included invited and contributed paper sessions, poster papers, workshops and tutorials, and the opportunity to volunteer their services in support of the association and the greater physics community. In addition to attending the physics programs, attendees had sufficient time to visit 62 exhibit booths and to meet with friends and colleagues in the pleasant atmosphere provided by the Austin Renaissance Hotel.

AAPT Provides Structure for Advances in Physics Education
Much of the role of creating a strong meeting program and examining issues of importance to the physics community rests with the AAPT Area Committee chairs and the 18 Area Committees. Both the outgoing and incoming chairs from many of the committees met on the Saturday prior to the AAPT meeting. President Elect Charlie Holbrow and Vice President Jim Nelson reviewed and discussed the responsibilities of the Area Committee Chairs, much of which is outlined in the Area Chairs Handbook (http://www.aapt.org/aboutaapt/handbook.cfm).

Each of the Area Committees met one or more times during the meeting to plan programs, discuss policy issues and long-range planning, and formulate suggestions that could be taken back to the Council and Executive Board. In addition to the Area Committee meetings, there were more than 20 other meetings of the various standing and program-related AAPT committees.

The AAPT Section Representatives met on Sunday evening to elect new officers and discuss issues of concern to the sections and general membership. The AAPT Council, consisting of the Section Representatives and Executive Board, met on Monday evening to hear reports from the officers of the Association and to recommend future meeting sites for the summer and winter meetings.

Council approved holding the 2006 Winter Meeting in Anchorage, Alaska; the 2006 Summer Meeting at the University of Dayton; and the 2007 Summer Meeting at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. The decision to hold the 2007 Winter Meeting jointly with the American Astronomical Society in Seattle was made earlier.

Workshops and Continuing Education Opportunities
More than 450 registrations were received for the 28 AAPT workshops and three tutorials that were offered during the two days prior to the paper presentations. Physics concepts taught using computer-related technologies such as video-based motion analysis, the use of LabVIEW, using interactive Java-based pedagogy, and web-based homework systems were featured in several of the workshops. These workshops were held off-site at the University of Texas and National Instruments to reduce the cost associated with providing hands-on computer experiences.

Many workshops presented pedagogical techniques for engaging students and providing innovative opportunities to learn specific subject matter such as the workshops “Geometric Algebra: A Unified Mathematical Language for Physics,” “Teaching Physics with Magic,” “Thermodynamics—The Tarot of Physics,” “Quarks and Leptons,” and “Teaching Quantum Mechanics Through Stern-Gerlach Spin ½ Experiments.”

Many of the lessons learned through physics education research (PER) were evident in workshops such as “Teaching Introductory Astronomy with Lecture-Tutorials,” “Classroom Assessment and Active Learning in Astronomy,” “Preparing Pre-College Teachers to Teach Physics by Inquiry,” and “TIPERS (Tasks Inspired by Physics Education Research).” An additional 14 commercial workshops rounded out the many educational opportunities for meeting participants.

The Paper Sessions
The meeting offered 92 invited papers, 219 contributed papers, 69 poster papers, and 5 crackerbarrels that were organized into 83 sessions during the three-day meeting. Approximately one-third of the poster papers were displayed in the exhibit hall each day. The poster paper authors were available to discuss the papers each morning during the break in paper sessions.

A popular choice for many attendees was any session involving the use of the web or computer applications in the classroom and laboratory. Typical examples were sessions with titles like “Online Physics Paradigms I and II,” “Innovative Uses of the Web in Pre-College Teaching,” “The Use of Physlets in Teaching and Learning Physics,” and “Classroom Communication Systems.”

Well-attended sessions of a topical interest included sessions with titles like “Space Physics and Astrophysics,” “Sci-Fi, Comic Books, and Hollywood’s Greatest Hits,” “Innovations in Teaching Astronomy,” “Innovative Lab Activities,” “’Relatively’ Interesting Physics,” and “Extending Interactive Science Museum Exhibits into the Classroom and Community.” A well-attended session was the session on “My Life as a Physicist” that featured invited talks by Nobel Prize winners Steven Weinberg and Robert Schrieffer.

A number of sessions were devoted to pedagogical issues such as sessions entitled “PER: Student Preparation and Motivation,” “Teaching Physics Concepts,” “Understanding Understanding: A Celebratory Session,” and “PER: Difficulties with Advanced Topics.” Undergraduate students engaged in physics research and outreach were featured in four sessions of contributed papers organized by the Society of Physics Students.

In addition, there were a number of career oriented and science policy related sessions such as “Building Success: Curricular Strategies and Support Communities,” “Science Education for the Public,” “Physics as a Human Endeavor,” and “Physics Teachers Can Do a Lot of Other Things Too!”

Abstracts for the 2003 AAPT Winter Meeting (as well as the 1998-2002 AAPT Winter and Summer Meetings) are available online in a searchable database at (http://www.aapt.org/AbstractSearch). In the coming months, this database will be restructured and will be moved to the AAPT website.

Awards and Plenary Sessions
The AAPT awards program provides a formal opportunity to recognize distinguished physicists and give them a chance to describe and promote their work. Margaret Murnane, University of Colorado, JILA, received the Richtmyer Award. Murnane’s Richtmyer Memorial Lecture, “Can We Make Atoms Sing and Molecules Dance? Using Fast Light Pulses to Observe and Control Nature,” discussed the use of 10 fs light pulses to manipulate the states of quantum systems. Using feedback control algorithms, lasers can be “taught” to generate an optimally shaped light pulse that controls the response of an atom or a molecule to light. The technique can be used to channel laser energy into a specific x-ray wavelength or to control chemical reactions with light.

Rocky Kolb, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Chicago, was awarded the Oersted Medal, AAPT’s most distinguished award. In his very entertaining lecture entitled “Schroedinger’s Alarming Phenomenon,” Kolb discussed Schroedinger’s concern about the possibility that an expanding universe can transform virtual particles into real particles. This particle production is a result of the quantum nature of a vacuum in a strong gravitational field, such as the expanding universe. Kolb concluded his talk with the following three statements: “NOTHING has something;” “NOTHING has energy (the cosmological constant);” and “NOTHING matters.”

Five members of the association were selected for Distinguished Service Citations. Recipients of the 2003 Distinguished Service Citations were as follows: Patrick Callahan, Delaware Valley Regional High School; Wolfgang Christian, Davidson College; Alexander Dickison, Seminole Community College; Richard Smith, University of West Florida-retired; and Larry Martin, North Park University, post humously. The citations for these awards will be published in the April issue of The Physics Teacher.

In his presidential address, Chris Chiaverina reviewed the progress of various AAPT programs and new program initiatives begun during the past year. (See the “Retiring President’s Address” on p. 7.)

Karen Williams, SPS Council President, presented Philip Cole and William Durrer, University of Texas, El Paso, with the Outstanding SPS Chapter Advisor Award. The American Institute of Physics presents this award annually at the AAPT Winter Meeting to faculty members who have excelled in the role of SPS advisor. Cole and Durrer were co-advisors of the UTEP SPS chapter.

Two high school teachers received High School Innovation Grants that were awarded by the Committee on Physics in High Schools. Stacy Klein from the University School of Nashville, Tenn., received $500 for the project “Understanding Electric Fields—A Visual Approach.” Mark Vondracek from Evanston Township High School, Evanston, Ill., received $500 for the project “Getting Physics to a Larger Community.”

Three excellent plenary sessions contributed to the physics and public policy content of the meeting. Nobel Laureate Bob Richardson, Cornell University, discussed the long-term benefits of the International Space Station in his talk “Science and the Space Station.” According to Richardson, the highest priority research being done on the space station is directed at solving problems associated with long duration space flight such as the loss of bone mass, the potential exposure to lethal doses of radiation, food supply, and disease control. Current physical science experiments planned for the space station include an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, an International time standard, and a low-temperature facility.

Ramon Lopez, University of Texas, El Paso, continued the “Physics in Space” theme of the meeting in his talk “Storms from the Sun: The Emerging Science of Space Weather.” High-energy particles ejected from the sun can destroy communication satellites, cause destructive surges in the electrical power grid, and subject astronauts to lethal doses of radiation. By being able to detect and predict these “storms,” measures can be taken to reduce their destructive effects.

In her talk “Space Flight—The Human Perspective,” Kathryn Thornton, University of Virginia, shared her experiences as an astronaut. Thornton discussed the history of exploration, stressing the tremendous advances that have occurred in the 20th Century. Acknowledging the many difficulties of space travel that were discussed by the other plenary speakers, Thornton still predicts that manned flight to Mars will occur in the next few decades.

If you wanted to see excitement, curiosity, and enthusiasm, you needed only to visit the SEES program. AAPT again sponsored the SEES (Students to Experience Engineering and Science) program for approximately 120 sixth-grade students from five Austin schools. AAPT members Don Franklin and Francis Tam, University of Texas Society of Women Engineers, and University of Texas, El Paso, Society of Physics Students members Juliette and Russell Mammei engaged the students in hands-on activities and make-and-takes. Astronaut Kathryn Thornton visited with all of the students and advised

them to stay in school and take math, science and writing classes.

This is the 11th year that AAPT has offered this program at its Winter Meeting. This program is organized and coordinated for AAPT by Betty Preece. Organizations interested in providing items for students and teachers or assisting with the program costs are invited to contact Preece at bp@snez.net.

Exhibit Show
In addition to the program activities, more than 50 booths displayed apparatus, books, software, and other materials that can be used in the teaching of physics and astronomy. The exhibit hall was a good place to meet friends between paper sessions or view the poster papers which were changed each day. Refreshments were provided during breaks in the sessions to encourage more attendees to visit the exhibits and posters. Sunday night’s Welcome Reception also featured a surprise 80th birthday party for Robert Resnick.

The AAPT Job Center provided an additional attraction to the exhibit hall. High schools, two-year colleges, and four-year institutions were all represented at the Job Center. Some of the position announcements continue to be available online through the Science Job Market (http://www.aapt.org/CareerCenter/SJM/submissioninfo.cfm).

In Conclusion
The 126th National Meeting was a very successful event by all measures. The 127th National Meeting will be held August 2-6, 2003, in Madison, Wis. The call for papers, list of workshops, housing information and registration forms appear in this issue and on the AAPT website. Please consult the AAPT website (http://www.aapt.org) for up-to-date information about all of AAPT’s activities.

Warren W. Hein, Associate Executive Officer